External LinkWyoming Housing Network, Inc.
This interview is one of five conducted for an article about home repair in the Tenth District. The full article offers background information and links to all interviews.
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The Wyoming Housing Network, Inc. (WHN), was conceived through a collaborative statewide planning process in response to Wyoming’s need for affordable housing. WHN launched in 2005 and is a chartered member of External LinkNeighborWorks. Its mission is to strengthen Wyoming communities by providing quality resources and opportunities for people to reach their housing goals. It offers HUD-certified housing counseling, counseling related to foreclosures, reverse mortgages, and rentals, and it offers homebuyer education and financial capabilities programs. It also owns and manages a portfolio of about 13 properties around the state serving specific area median income (AMI) populations.
Q: Each state in the Tenth District has something about its housing situation that makes it unique. What sets Wyoming apart?
A. We’re similar in that we have escalating prices and low inventory. The unique challenge here is that we have much more out-of-state interest in moving to Wyoming. Part of a market that would normally be available for turnover in our own communities has been purchased by out-of-state families or individuals. We have seen an uptick in the corporatization of the housing market, as well. Part of the inventory for first-time homebuyers is going to investors rather than individual homeowners.
Wyoming is such a rural state. Wyoming has been described as one big town with really long streets. Our smaller communities are sometimes even more affected, especially when you come to things like rehabbing homes.
Q: What sets the Wyoming Housing Network apart?
A: It is the only HUD-certified housing counseling agency in the state. We focus on the education piece.
When you strengthen people’s housing, you strengthen the community’s ability to have economic development. In Wyoming, there is tons of activity for economic development and almost all those communities are saying, we can’t do economic development because we don’t have enough housing. Or if you want kids to be able to do better in school, they need stable, clean, safe housing. These aspects have an impact on the community.
We do financial capabilities and financial skills training and counseling. We do first-time home buyer counseling. We do foreclosure prevention, and homeownership counseling, and reverse mortgage counseling. All the steps along that journey. We don’t provide financial aid such as rental assistance or mortgage assistance to an individual. What we do, though, is partner with other community agencies.
We are partnering with and just hired a housing counselor on the External LinkWind River Reservation. He just started and he'll be working on a partnership with External LinkEastern Shoshone Housing Authority there and the External LinkWind River Development Fund to provide housing counseling services that are culturally relevant. That's exciting. That's a big deal for us.
Q: When it comes to the system related to the rehabilitation of homes what challenges do you see?
A: There’s a correlation in the last few years between rising interest rates and the inability of people to age in place. We did a senior housing study in 2021. It showed that in the next few years, our elderly would be looking to downsize to someplace single story and maybe handicap accessible. When they downsize, they’re creating inventory for upwards movement of other homeowners to get a larger home, or first-time homebuyers to enter the market. In that turnover process, homes get renovated. The seller would rehab the home, maybe upgrade the electrical, fix the plumbing or replace the roof.
But with escalating interest rates, if you’re on a fixed income you can afford the current mortgage payment, but even if you have equity in the home, you may not get any savings out of downsizing. You have the expense of fixing things before you leave, but then you’re getting less home at more money at the higher interest rate. The benefit of downsizing financially isn’t what it was before. So I’m staying in my home and struggling with the maintenance and upkeep. I can’t do all the things I would have done 10 years ago. We’re finding this unique problem of people staying in homes they can’t afford to upgrade and they can’t afford to move out of them. In some places there are no homes because people aren’t moving out. It’s almost like the cycle is stuck.
Also, people who want to age at home may now have home repairs because of severe weather. Hail and flooding, those are things we don’t normally see. We have had people come here looking for help because flash flooding ruined the walls in their basement and that’s $25,000. They don’t have that sitting around. They’re on a fixed income and don’t have the ability to save for major repairs. If they had an opportunity to refinance, they may not have been able to do that because their appraisal said they had major repairs to do. They may not be able to afford a home equity line of credit or a home equity loan for major repairs. So the normal kind of go-to products for people who are able to absorb a payment into their regular budget, like a home equity line of credit or a refinance, aren’t an option for aging people or those on a fixed income.
In Wyoming, we have the advantage in some of our rural communities in being able to take advantage of the External LinkUSDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture). They have some very low interest loan products that are specifically for the elderly. But that doesn't work in an urban area. In our largest cities, our homeowners can’t take advantage of that. We're really struggling because we're getting more and more calls saying, “Help me, I have this major repair and I can't afford it. What am I supposed to do?” And we need to play catch up.
Q: What in that system do you see working well?
A: I think what is working well in this system is that the conversations are happening. We’ve seen in the pandemic how important that is. Having conversations, like, there’s this growing need for rehabilitation of homes or for upgrades and renovations that people can’t do, who are aging in place. Before, the attitude has been that people have to take care of themselves, that it’s a homeowner problem, an income problem. Here, when we start to get that conversation to a higher level, we’re recognizing there’s something in the system that’s not working or there need to be some other products around housing other than just mortgage or rentals. Homeownership is the number one way to build generational wealth, so if you don’t have an opportunity to maintain that we’re losing opportunities for future generations. Keeping the home inventory healthy and stable is important.