Bennet, Daines, Neguse Introduce Bill to Address Housing Shortage in Rural and Mountain Communities

Bipartisan Bill Strengthens the Authority of the United States Forest Service to Lease Underutilized Sites to Address Local Needs

Washington, D.C. — Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) introduced the Forest Service Flexible Housing Partnerships Act to help address the housing shortage in rural and mountain communities. The bipartisan legislation would strengthen the authority of the United States Forest Service (USFS) to lease underutilized administrative sites to address local needs, including for building affordable housing.  

“The American West faces a housing crisis, and our mountain and rural communities are at the center of it. 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,” said Bennet. “This bill will build on our efforts in the 2018 Farm Bill to help communities and the Forest Service work together to build more affordable housing.”

“As our state continues to grow, housing is becoming more expensive and harder to find, especially in our rural and gateway communities. This bipartisan bill will help Montana communities partner with the Forest Service to create affordable housing and help ensure hardworking Montanans are able to live where they work,” said Daines.

“I’m proud to join Senators Bennet and Daines in introducing the bipartisan Forest Service Flexible Housing Partnerships Act, a bill that fosters a strong and mutually beneficial partnership between USFS and America’s rural and mountain communities,” said Neguse. “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.”

In the 2018 Farm Bill, Bennet helped secure the authority for the Forest Service to lease administrative sites, such as underused administrative parcels located mostly outside of forest boundaries, to localities in exchange for in-kind contributions, including housing construction and improvement or maintenance of federal facilities. To provide towns and counties with greater certainty, the Forest Service Flexible Housing Partnerships Act lengthens the site’s lease authority to up to 100 years and allows it to be renewed at the end of its term. 

As a result of the housing crisis in the West, the Forest Service currently experiences a severe staffing shortage. This legislation will also help the agency provide housing for its firefighters and other critical positions to better serve the communities they work for. 

The bill is supported by Summit County, Grand County, Eagle County, Aspen, Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST), and Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG).

“The reauthorization of the Forest Service Flexible Housing Partnership Act would allow for continued partnerships among local governments, private industry, and the Forest Service as we work together on very complicated but much-needed workforce and affordable housing projects. CAST thanks Senator Bennet and Congressman Neguse for their leadership on this important issue,” said Margaret Bowes, Executive Director, Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

“Coming out of the pandemic, Summit County has found itself at the forefront of the housing crisis. We’re leveraging every creative strategy we can to create relief for our residents. 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,” said Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue.

“Federal lands comprise 84% of Eagle County.  With very little private lands for affordable workforce housing development, this is a problem Eagle County will struggle to fix on its own.  We appreciate the creative solutions in the Forest Service Flexible Housing Partnerships Act to relieve this pressure.  Authorizing the Forest Service to lease appropriate parcels for housing will greatly benefit our workforce and our mountain resort economy.  We are excited about the proposed improvements to the legislation and we thank Senator Bennet for his efforts on our behalf,” said Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry.

“I applaud Sen. Bennet’s leadership in sponsoring this legislation, which creates opportunities to attain local community and Forest Service needs in Aspen and other communities in the West through long-term lease partnerships,” said Aspen Mayor Torre. “Affordable housing is critical to Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, and this approach would allow for critical workforce housing units, along with a bunkhouse and required facilities for the White River National Forest operations on land near downtown Aspen. Specifically, this bill includes a provision for longer-term leases that make projects like this one more feasible. We urge Congress to support this effort, and we look forward to the continued partnership opportunity with the USFS, our city, Colorado Mountain College and other major institutions.”

“The Gardiner Chamber of Commerce fully endorses reauthorizing the Forest Service Flexible Housing Program. Housing is a critical issue affecting every sector of Gardiner. If passed we see this bill as a step toward alleviating the ongoing pressures felt by our community by strengthening our ability to hire and retain workforce,” said Terese Petcoff, Executive Director of Gardiner Chamber of Commerce.

The text of the bill is available HERE. A summary of the bill is available HERE.