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Housing organizations to hold educational talks next week

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Apartment buildings at the Village at Sage Creek are seen in Casper. Two housing organizations are hosting a series of talks on housing solutions at the Laramie County Library.

In an effort to educate elected officials about housing solutions, two Wyoming housing organizations will host a series of talks Nov. 29 at the Laramie County Library.

Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County and My Front Door are hosting the talks to keep conversations about housing churning ahead of the 2023 legislative session, as well as clear up any preconceived notions lawmakers may have about the issue.

“There just seems to be some misinformation out there,” said Dan Dorsch, special projects coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County.

The talks come after a panel of lawmakers met to discuss workforce housing this summer and fall. The goal was to see if the Legislature could do anything to address the rising housing costs and low inventory that are squeezing out workers across the state. The Corporations Committee discussed several ideas for bill, but didn't end up endorsing any.

Two of those ideas came from My Front Door and Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County: a bill to create a state housing trust fund program, and a bill to let local governments create their own community land banks.

Housing trust funds are multi-purpose pools of money dedicated to addressing community housing needs. Community land banks are entities that buy and rehabilitate market-rejected properties — homes no one else will buy, in other words — often with the goal of providing accessible housing to that community’s residents.

The committee rejected the former proposal, and voted to table the latter in October after considering a bill draft.

When it came to the housing trust fund program, lawmakers weren’t clear how it would work or who could help run it. Some committee members said they’d prefer to look at private-sector solutions first.

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Meanwhile, lawmakers and members of the public who spoke at the October meeting said there were too many loopholes in the community land bank bill draft, and indicated it would need further revisions before it could be brought before the state house.

Dorsch said from his perspective, there seemed to be a lot of confusion among lawmakers about the root of Wyoming’s housing struggles, and whether the state ought to get involved.

Dorsch doesn’t blame them, though — it’s the first time a Wyoming legislative committee has taken such a close look at statewide housing issues. It’s a complicated topic, and lawmakers already have plenty on their plates, he said.

Housing solutions that involve the government on any level tend to get a get a bad rap, Dorsch said.

When people hear affordable housing, they tend to think of the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, Dorsch said — aka Section 8. That program generally serves families making under 50% of the median income in their area of residence.

“That’s part of it, but it’s not the whole picture,” he said.

Dorsch and others who work in nonprofit housing development are pushing for a more holistic approach to housing policy. The goal is to make housing more attainable for everyone, he said — whether that's middle-class families on the market for their first homes, or seniors looking for affordable assisted living communities.

The talks will revisit housing trust funds and land banks, and touch on other topics like zoning laws and community land trusts.

Community land trusts are nonprofits that buy land, build housing on it, then sell that housing to low-income residents. The organization retains ownership over the land, and place restrictions on its resale price so it stays affordable in the long run.

The talks, which are open to the public, will take place 12 p.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. in the library's Cottonwood Room. Attendees can also call in over Zoom.

To RSVP for the event, email Dorsch at dan@cheyennehfh.org.

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