At MTFP - How the 2023 Legislature tried to tackle Montana’s housing crunch

lawmakers passed a host of pro-housing zoning measures — overcoming opposition from local government leaders and other critics who worry the resulting infill development could transform neighborhoods and overload existing sewer systems

At MTFP - How the 2023 Legislature tried to tackle Montana’s housing crunch
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Read the article at the Montana Free Press by Eric Dietrich
“As lawmakers head home from the session, they’re already debating whether their crop of housing bills goes far enough.
Minority Democrats, who hold about a third of the Legislature’s seats, have argued that they believe the Republican-controlled body hasn’t done enough to ease Montanans’ housing pain. Democrats at various points in the session floated much bigger housing spending measures, one totalling $500 million. They also advocated unsuccessfully for offering a tax credit for landlords who rent their properties below market rates and pushed to have one-time property tax credits from the state budget surplus benefit renters as well as homeowners.
“We provided no immediate solutions to the housing crisis,” Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, said at a press conference May 4. “There’s nothing for renters that came out of this session.”
The governor and legislative Republicans have typically focused on housing as a market issue, arguing that the root cause of the problem is that the state has too few homes to house Montanans. As such, they were generally skeptical of subsidy proposals, especially those that passed money to individual renters or homebuyers instead of those that directed funds to encourage construction.
“Given the magnitude of the problem, there is not enough money in the state budget to subsidize housing in a way that would be meaningful across the entire state,” Gianforte said during a press conference March 29.
(The state’s Board of Housing last year funded projects that would produce 158 units of rent-restricted housing at an average subsidy of $186,000 per unit. State housing officials have told lawmakers that Montana needs 31,000 more homes and apartments that are available to rent at prices affordable to very-low-income renters. Multiplying that figure by the board’s per-unit average produces a price tag of $5.8 billion.)
At that same press conference, Gianforte argued for boosting the housing supply by making it easier to build and putting state dollars into the water lines, sewer lines and roads necessary to serve new homes. He also touted his work to promote apprenticeships in trades such as plumbing, carpentry and electrical work, efforts intended to minimize the extent that skilled labor is a bottleneck for housing construction.
Republican legislative leaders have also expressed ambivalence about how much state action can do to shift the weight of the housing market off of cost-burdened residents — and how fast the pro-construction measures they’ve signed onto will shift the market, even under ideal circumstances.
“Housing is a very complex issue,” House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, R-Billings, said at a press conference May 4, in response to a question about whether she believed the Legislature had done enough to address the pain produced by rising prices. “There are many folks who believe the market should really determine what is affordable housing and what should be out there for purchase,” she added.”

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