Best of the West: Affordable housing programs in the region; wildfire’s long-term effects; the world’s largest chile conference

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the news of the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Jan. 13, 2020. Photo courtesy of the USDA Forest Service

In order to help fight homelessness, Microsoft recently announced that it would be contributing $250 million towards affordable housing in the Seattle, Washington area.

This is not the first time the company has lent the city a helping hand. The tech giant contributed $500 million last year to the same cause, which, according to The Washington Post, is being used to provide loans to developers of affordable housing units, fund grants to address homelessness, and provide legal help to those facing eviction.

The additional $250 million Microsoft is committing will provide a line of credit to the Washington State Finance Commission, allowing for the construction of approximately 3,000 additional units of affordable housing.

Elsewhere in the West, other public and private entities are stepping up to fight homelessness. In Hawaii, lawmakers are issuing $200 million in bonds to support the construction of affordable housing units on state lands, Hawaii Public Radio reports. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced a $1.4 billion proposal to combat the issue as well, of which $750 million would be placed into a special fund to “pay the rent of individuals facing homelessness and to spur the building of affordable housing,” according to NPR. The money would be allocated from the state’s surplus tax revenues, expected to reach $7 billion in the coming year.

The nonprofit organization Habitat for Humanity, The Heart of Wyoming, is working to develop a $2.5 million affordable housing subdivision in east Casper, Oil City News reports. The project, which would be the largest of its kind within the city, will include 13 homes spread out over nearly three acres.

The Human Resource Development Council, also a nonprofit, is building an affordable housing development In Bozeman, Montana, which is expected to be complete by spring of this year. The new development, according to ABC Fox Montana, will be comprised of 12 homes, each of which will be priced starting at about $217,000.

Fire and Water: A recent study from Washington State University reveals that water levels in forests can remain elevated for up to 40 years after a wildfire, according to WSU Insider. Certain practices can help mitigate this effect, such as salvage logging and re-seeding a forest after it burns. Left untouched, however, patches of woods can be susceptible to flooding and erosion for several decades after a blaze occurs. “It’s really a complex set of interactions, and each wildfire situation effects water and water usage differently,” said Ryan Niemeyer, an adjunct faculty member at WSU. “But now we know how long a fire impacts nearby water, and that those impacts can be reduced faster.”

Privacy Laws: The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect on Jan. 1, detailing how tech companies may collect and use information belonging to the state’s residents, CNBC reports. The CCPA pertains to businesses that have a gross annual income of more than $25 million; buy, receive or sell data from 50,000 or more customers, households or devices in California; or derive more than half of their annual revenue from the sale of data. Under the Act, consumers are able to request that companies delete their data, among other protections.

Remote Work: Since its inception in 2018, Utah’s Rural Online Initiative program has helped nearly 800 participants, 73% of which were woman, train for and work their jobs remotely, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. The program, run by Utah State University Extension and funded by the state’s legislature, requires that participants take a one-month certification course online, where they learn various tools to help them work from home. Upon completion, participants use their new skills to continue careers in their respective field remotely, which can be a game-changer for people with childcare responsibilities, disabilities, or a lack of job opportunities within their community.

World’s Largest Chile Conference: On Feb. 3-4, New Mexico State University will host the 2020 New Mexico Chile Conference, the largest such event in the world, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican. The gathering, organized by the university’s Chile Pepper Institute, has been held annually for approximately 30 years, offering students a chance to present their chile pepper-related research to fellow enthusiasts. Additionally, the event also attracts experts in breeding, processing, pest management and sustainable farming practices. Conversations will include discussions about how to add value to harvests, as well as the ins and outs of New Mexico’s chile certification program.

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