Senator Lee offers to sell BLM land to ease housing shortage
Republican Utah Senator Mike Lee believes that the large amount of federally owned land in Utah is one of the factors driving up prices and limiting housing availability in Utah. He introduced a bill that would allow local governments to purchase plots from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for housing development.
Turning BLM land into housing
Under the bill he calls the HOUSES Act (an acronym for Helping Open Underutilized Space to Guarantee Shelter), cities would name parcels of public land, much like oil companies do drilling leases. The Home Office would have to approve the sale, but the land could then be developed for housing.
The bill would not require more than 15% of the parcel to be available for commercial development.
And, Lee said, there are no plans to sell federally protected land.
“Nothing in my proposal would consider doing anything different in terms of national parks, wilderness areas or anything like that,” Lee told KSL NewsRadio.
Lands managed by the US Forest Service are not included in the proposal.
About two-thirds of Utah’s land is owned by the federal government. Rural communities in the state are generally closer to BLM land than urban communities on the Wasatch Front, but Lee said they could benefit as well.
“There’s not as much BLM land there as there is in and around St. George, but there is, and there’s also some within commuting distance,” Lee said.
Opponents say BLM land isn’t the answer to Utah’s housing shortage
While the bill won praise from Utah’s fellow Republican senator, Mitt Romney, the head of advocacy group o2Utah doesn’t think it’s the answer to Utah’s housing shortage. David Garbett has also worked with the Pioneer Park Coalition and was a candidate for mayor of Salt Lake City.
“It’s like he’s trying to take something that is a legitimate problem and crisis, which is our housing shortage, and use it as fodder to just advance his anti-public land stance,” he said. Garbett told KSL Newsradio.
Garbett said Lee could solve the problem today by arranging land swaps — exchanging federal land for state institutional trust land. That wouldn’t need federal legislation, he said.