WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Steve Daines were joined by U.S. Rep. John Neguse in introducing the reauthorization of the Forest Service Flexible Housing Partnerships Act this week in Congress.
The act calls for the reauthorization of the original piece of legislation that Bennet introduced and secured in the 2018 Farm Bill. The updated act adds the length of the site’s lease authority, up to 100 years, and will allow renewal at the end of its term.
The bipartisan legislation addresses the housing shortage in mountain and rural communities. The act is planned to further strengthen the U.S. Forest Service to “lease underutilized administrative sites” for local needs, which include building affordable housing.
“The American West faces a housing crisis, and our mountain and rural communities are at the center of it,” Bennet said in a news release. “When Colorado’s teachers, firefighters, police, and nurses can no longer afford to live where they work, we need to use every tool we can to fix this problem.”
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is a shortage of affordable housing for extremely low-income households in Colorado. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has reported a deficit of over 114,000 homes for extremely low-income households and over 140,000 for very low-income households.
Among the extremely low-income households, the Low Income Housing Coalition has found 39% are in the labor force.
The Forest Service has found itself also severely understaffed as a result of the lack of affordable housing in rural and mountain communities they can provide for their workers. The bill is set to help the Forest Service provide housing for its firefighters and other staffers.
Through this legislation, the Forest Service will be able to utilize land that surrounds rural and mountain communities that are under the Forest Service’s ownership. Currently in Colorado, about 65% of forests are federally owned, with the Forest Service owning 47% (11.3 million acres), making it the primary land manager of Colorado forests, according to the Colorado State Forest Service.
“For countless folks in Colorado, and across the country, equipping the Forest Service with the ability to lease administrative sites will help to meet the needs of towns surrounded by federal lands, building on the existing program and increasing much-needed access to affordable housing,” Neguse said in the release.
Summit County, Grand County, Eagle County, Aspen, Colorado Association of Ski Towns and Northwest Colorado Council of Governments have shown their support for the reauthorization of this bill.
“Coming out of the pandemic, Summit County has found itself at the forefront of the housing crisis,” said Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue in the release. “Public-private partnerships like those identified in the Forest Service Flexible Housing Partnerships Act are critical in that they create additional opportunities for the development of new housing for both our workforce and our federal employees.”
Mina Allen is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.