Wyoming’s affordable housing is running out

Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 11:29 AM CDT
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) -Made in 1943, the Pinewood Village Apartments were built to help veterans and their families during the war.

Back then, a private owner leased the land to the U.S. government for one dollar a year; seven months later, 200 apartments were built and sit on the land today.

As the low-income housing crunch becomes a bigger problem in Wyoming, many wonder what creative ideas are being implemented to help fix the problem.

The current property manager of Pinewood says previous owners and management let the apartments go unchecked, creating unlivable conditions they are now fixing.

But an issue arises when looking for places for these folks to move into that they can afford.

Currently, they are “musical chairing” residents into renovated apartments where they can. But are at a loss due to the short supply of affordable housing.

They say they are helping them into whatever low-income apartments they can find or back in with their families.

“I’ve personally done about a dozen of their applications for Cheyenne Housing, four of them have already been placed... their building hasn’t even received notice yet ,” said Jennifer Ferree, Property Manager of the Pinewood Village Apartments.

According to experts, Cheyenne has a 98 percent occupancy rate, and like most in the country, Wyoming lacks low, affordable or workforce housing.

As current affordable housing continues to age along with the increase in inflation and the cost of living, some experts say that we can continue to see this bottleneck in housing along with folks leaving the state.

During the pandemic, Gov. Mark Gordon used the influx of federal funds to diversify our economy and attract the workforce to the state.

The initiative was meant to help the housing crunch through rental or mortgage assistance and create an affordable housing task force and interim studies to address the issue.

With our current growth pattern, experts say Cheyenne needs at least 1800 units, and Natrona County needs 1400.

”Currently, on average, about 250 affordable units are built for low to affordable-income housing every year, and as you might imagine, our estimated growth for the community for all types is 4000 units short,” said Brenda Birkle, Executive Director of My Front Door and Chair for the Affordable Housing Taskforce.

During the last legislative session, two bills were designed to help with affordable housing.

“Builder are saying they can’t afford to build properties in that price range right now, and they are coming to the legislators saying they are there some rules or regulations that we can fix to make a public-private partnership to make it cost-effective to build that middle-income housing that we are not seeing throughout the state,” said Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, Chair of labor, health and Social Services Committee -H.D. 43.

Both bills died in committees and chambers for fear of too much government intervention and undermining the private industry.

Experts say that changing regulations and bureaucracy may help, and others state that voting in the lawmakers that create solutions is critical instead of voting them down.

But all agree that not addressing the problem will not make it go away.

Additionally, authorities said that as pandemic resources hit their sunset dates within the next three months, the housing issue, cost of food and living will create significant problems across Wyoming and the nation.