Several important housing policies have been adopted or proposed in the West in the last several months, a sign of the depth of the affordable housing problem across the region.

In Portland, Ore., the City Council in October approved setting aside at least 30 percent of the city’s urban renewal funds for affordable housing. The move is projected to raise $163 million over the next six years, and it essentially doubles the amount of money going toward affordable housing, said Sam Chase, executive director of the Community Development Network, an association of nonprofit community development organizations in Portland. The network was part of Affordable Housing NOW!, the coalition that pushed for the set-aside.

Traditionally, about $14 million has been spent for affordable housing in the urban renewal areas each year, Chase explained. The Council’s move will nearly double that amount to about $27 million.

This set-aside is the largest ongoing funding allocation for affordable housing in Portland’s history. Under the plan, 30 percent of tax increment financing in the city’s urban renewal districts will go toward developing and preserving affordable housing. Final details are being worked out this year.

In Wyoming, the state Senate approved a workforce housing measure after two years of discussion. Under the plan, the Wyoming Business Council would offer communities low-interest loans for infrastructure improvements.

“Throughout the state, we have an acute shortage of affordable housing,” said state Sen. Bill Vasey, a Democrat from Rawlins. Many working families can’t afford a home, he said.

The bill’s appropriation was only $1 million this year, but it is a start for the program, Vasey said. An earlier proposal called for $30 million.

Republican state Sen. Grant Larson of Jackson also supported the bill, saying a workforce shortage exists in the state, which can be traced back to a housing shortage. He noted that some fast-food restaurants in his state are open in the morning and in the evening but oddly not during the key lunch hour. The reason is that there is a shortage of workers, he said.

California had the biggest news with the passage of Proposition 1C, a $2.85 billion housing bond, in November .

BLM land offered

In Nevada, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has taken a new step by selling public land for use as affordable housing. The first property made available under the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act closed escrow in February.

The BLM, in consultation with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, sold a five-acre parcel to Clark County, which has chosen Nevada HAND, Inc., to build 103 units of affordable seniors housing on the site.

The parcel appraised for $3 million and was sold to the county for slightly less then $200,000. Nevada HAND provided the money to the county for the sale, and the county turned the property over to the nonprofit, according to Mike Mullin, president of Nevada HAND, which has broken ground on the development known as Harmon Pines.

The BLM has reserved more than 1,300 acres for affordable housing in the Las Vegas valley. The agency administers nearly 48 million acres of public land in the state.

“It’s just one more arrow in the quiver to help us fight the good fight for affordable housing,” Mullin said.

Earlier this year, the Salt Lake City Council debated its housing policies, including a controversial proposal to not subsidize new multifamily projects that are 100 percent affordable. For supporters of the proposal, it’s a move aimed at spurring mixed-income developments. Opponents, however, think it will mean that some affordable housing projects will not get built. No action had been taken on the proposal at press time.

In New Mexico, state officials approved a bill in March that sets tougher rules for the state’s troubled regional housing authorities, which are no longer able to issue bonds and will be monitored by the Mortgage Finance Authority and the Department of Finance and Administration. The move comes after the Albuquerque-area Region III Housing Authority defaulted on a $5 million bond issue.