HKS Authors

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Quantitative evidence supports the contention that Wyoming’s housing market is constrained, to a greater degree than many other parts of the US. Prices are persistently above expectations given economic fundamentals in most parts of the state, and the supply of new housing in Wyoming is on average less responsive to price increases than in other US counties. This has undermined natural population growth and contributed to a low amount of population density close to city centers in Wyoming, as compared to other US cities with comparable population levels. Importantly, this phenomenon is not simply the result of pandemic-era economic frictions. The evidence shows that these constraints have durably persisted in Wyoming. This housing constraint weighs heavily on the broader Wyoming’s economy, and chokes off growth in new industries that could add to the Wyoming economy beyond its natural resource base. Businesses consistently report a lack of access to workforce as a leading problem that ultimately results from a lack of housing. Some businesses have even tried to create their own housing for employees, and news reports abound of teachers and nurses who secure jobs in Wyoming communities but then have to leave because they cannot find housing. Key problems behind Wyoming’s housing constraints include excessive regulations concerning housing density and insufficient investment in arterial infrastructure. For example, there is evidence that over-regulated minimum lot sizes in Wyoming are blocking the creation of supply to match free-market demand for houses with smaller amounts of land. Other areas of over-regulation include those concerning allowable housing types, building height, parking spaces per dwelling, and the housing approval process itself. This may be seen as surprising given Wyoming’s reputation as a low-regulation state, but Wyoming maintains restrictions that other states and countries have discarded as outdated and highly counterproductive. Besides outright restrictions on housing development, we find that the most common cost driver undermining the housing development has to do with low public investment in needed arterial infrastructure, especially water systems. Land supply as well as material and construction costs are not primary constraints to housing development across the state, but may matter for select communities. We suggest a portfolio of policy changes for the state of Wyoming to explore in order to solve its housing constraints. One category of changes is regulatory, and focuses on deregulation, reducing bureaucratic overhead, and shifting from veto-cratic to democratic housing approval procedures. Another category is focused on investment on infrastructure to support housing, and exploration of state-local funding structures to facilitate continuous infrastructure improvement. If implemented, these changes will not only help to solve Wyoming’s housing constraints but also facilitate housing development in a way that combats urban sprawl, and in doing so protects open spaces outside of cities that Wyomingites value.


Bùi, Thao-Nguyên, Tim Freeman, Ricardo Hausmann, Farah Kaddah, Lucas Lamby, Tim O’Brien, and Eric Protzer. "Housing in Wyoming: Constraints and Solutions." CID Faculty Working Paper Series, April 2023.