Creating more affordable housing in and around Sheridan remains one of the community’s primary goals, and stakeholders in different sections of the community are gradually developing strategies that work toward that goal.
In October, city of Sheridan Community Development Director Brian Craig and Sheridan Economic and Educational Development Authority administrator Robert Briggs presented Sheridan’s city council with short-term and long-term plans for addressing housing needs in the community.
The short-term solutions include conducting a “code audit” of the city’s building regulations and eliminating or revising building codes that could pose obstacles to affordable housing developments or drive up building costs. The city plans on hosting listening sessions with stakeholders through the winter to identify potentially problematic regulations and develop solutions.
The city has also explored the option of encouraging more infill projects, which use vacant or underdeveloped land in already developed communities, essentially filling gaps between existing houses. New housing projects carry fixed costs developers need to pay the city to extend water and sewer infrastructure to the new developments. But because infill lots are in developed areas, and therefore are already connected to that infrastructure, projects on those lots will not need to pay the connection fees.
In the long term, the city and SEEDA planned to partner on a housing needs assessment to compile an inventory of the current housing stock in the community and identify where there is unmet demand, both in terms of price points and types of housing.
SEEDA recently decided to delay its decision on participating in that study.
If and when that study is completed, the community will have to develop a strategy, or several parallel strategies, to address the needs it identifies.
Drew Homola, owner of First Choice Builders, suggested organizing neighborhoods differently may contribute to more affordable housing and more vibrant communities.
He proposed neighborhoods have small lots with single-family homes and each home has the ability to have an office, so residents could legally work at home, and an attached or detached smaller unit that could potentially be rented.
Keeping the lots small reduces the cost of the lots, and including those additional amenities gives residents the ability to either save money by working at home or profiting from the rental unit on their property.
Allowing for small housing lots would also give developers more room to create green spaces and recreational spaces in the development, Homola said. The flexibility the units would provide residents, in terms of both cost and utility, could allow residents to develop amenities organically.
“Maybe there would be a coffee shop on the corner or maybe there would be a lawyer’s office in someone’s house or a bank down on the corner, maybe a small grocery store,” Homola said. “So it ends up being a small community.”
Homola also suggested mixing different-priced housing units and different types of housing units — such as apartments, town homes and single-family homes — in the development, which would ensure the city does not stratify into expensive and inexpensive neighborhoods and instead develops diverse communities.
“The city and some other people have put forth effort in getting conversations started, which is always a good place to start,” Homola said. “And I think they are definitely open- minded to ideas also.”
Philanthropy might also have a small part to play in improving the community’s housing diversity.
Habitat for Humanity of the Eastern Bighorns focuses on finding affordable housing for lower-income families in the community and the group’s executive director Christine Dieterich said it plans to ramp up its efforts in the coming year. August 2019 will mark Habitat for Humanity of the Eastern Bighorns’ 25th anniversary. To commemorate that milestone, the group is planning one of its largest projects yet.
Dieterich said her group hopes to raise $500,000 over the next year to build a series of multi-family units in the Poplar Grove Planned Unit Development phase four.
“That’s going to double the number of families that we have in the next couple of years,” Dieterich said.
Community stakeholders agree that there is no silver bullet for the affordable housing shortage in Sheridan County. Addressing its housing needs will require the people throughout the community to develop several partial solutions that, combined, will make Sheridan a more dynamic community.