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CHEYENNE – Cheyenne and Laramie County are seeing steady growth in terms of employment rates and economic strength, but the same does not ring true for the affordable housing market.

A panel addressed local housing issues and the barriers that contribute to the lack of affordable housing at Thursday’s Economic Forecast Luncheon, hosted by the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce as part of its annual Business Week events.

“The greater Cheyenne area has been experiencing growth all around, and in the housing market, especially,” said Anne Alexander, University of Wyoming’s associate vice provost for undergraduate education, who moderated the panel. “The housing market has tightened significantly.”

Buck Wilson, president of the Cheyenne Board of Realtors, referred to the current state as a “seller’s market.”

The demand for homes is outweighing the supply and driving up prices. Wilson said there are slightly more than 300 homes on the market, which is a low number. Currently, the average price for a residential city home is $269,000, and the price for a rural home is $412,000.

“Just to give you a little perspective, in 2013, the average single-family home was $200,226 and the average rural property was $298,893, so you can see the significant increase in the housing prices,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he still expects the number of homes sold to increase from last year. Darrel McMullen, president of the Southeast Wyoming Builders Association, said the number of building permits issued this year is also on track to surpass last year’s numbers.

When it comes to affordable housing, the Cheyenne Housing Authority hasn’t been able to meet the demand, according to Executive Director Greg Hancock.

The Housing Authority manages 266 affordable housing units and provides about 1,000 housing vouchers. More than 1,000 households are on the waiting list for those public housing units, and more than 2,000 households are waiting for vouchers.

At the luncheon, the Chamber released the results of its new Laramie County Housing Study, which forecasts the shortages and surpluses in the housing market through 2026. The highest projected shortage of housing units will be for those making between $35,000 and $50,000.

Hancock said the situation for low-income residents is troubling.

“Those households contain people that are critical to the Cheyenne economy,” Hancock said. “They’re retail workers. They’re health-care support personnel. They’re child-care workers.”

The lack and cost of housing make it challenging for those workers to maintain their residence in the city, he said. When demand increases and costs go up, more people end up commuting to work.

Alexander said 20% of employees in Cheyenne commute to work daily.

The affordable housing shortages are partially caused by barriers like regulations and shortage of land, according to the panelists.

McMullen said regardless of what price home they build, whether it’s $200,000 or $800,000, the city charges $10,040 in taxes and fees. To lessen the regulatory burden, developers and city officials could come up with a multi-step process for requirements like sidewalks and landscaping, McMullen said. That way, the developers wouldn’t have to shoulder the costs all at once.

Hancock said, “To a housing developer, time is money.” If the amount of time it takes a developer to get permits decreases, he said the housing cost will, too.

Hancock said one solution to the land shortage is more population-dense housing like subdivisions.

“Anything that can be done to increase the density of housing, and certainly have it be livable, like duplexes and other types of high-density housing, that would help reduce land use and reduce costs,” Hancock said.

The housing shortages are a result of growing pains in Laramie County. Cheyenne’s economic index surpasses that of Casper, and unemployment remains low.

“We are very fortunate here in Cheyenne. We have a lot of good things going for us,” Wilson said. “Growth is inevitable. It’s going to happen. We’re seeing it. And that comes with some challenges, too.”

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter @MargaretMAustin.

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