Monday, February 26

Gianforte appoints affordable housing task force | 406 Politics

Gov. Greg Gianforte appointed a committee charged with tackling Montana’s housing crisis Thursday, asking the group to recommend steps the state can take to address affordability and availability.

Gianforte signed an executive order Thursday creating the new Housing Advisory Council. The 26-member task force will meet for the first time next week with the directive of making recommendations to the state Legislature and state agencies to “increase the supply of affordable, attainable workforce housing.”

“Owning a home is part of the American dream, but for more than a decade, it’s become harder and harder for Montanans to afford to own or rent a home,” Gianforte said in a statement, going on to call current regulations “burdensome.”

The executive order also cites a shortage of construction labor, zoning, lack of entry-level homes and a lack of land developers and land to develop. Population growth has outpaced new housing starts and increased demand and supply chain delays have caused construction costs to jump by more than 18%, the order states.

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“Montana faces a crisis of affordable, attainable housing that poses substantial challenges to hardworking Montanans, employers, communities and the state’s economic health,” the order states.

The order directs the task force to issue a report to the Legislature by Oct. 15 on potential legal changes and a report to the governor by Dec. 15 on steps state agencies or local governments can take. While not limiting scope, the order again identifies regulations and zoning as considerations in the reports.

Announcement of the task force comes the day after Democratic lawmakers proposed spending $500 million of a the state’s budget surplus on housing, specifically for financing programs for low- or no-interest loans to fund multi-family housing units.

The executive order does not specifically mention public funding as a potential solution, but does not eliminate it either.

Montana Department of Environmental Quality Director Chris Dorrington will chair the task force. Other members include other state and local officials, business interests and housing experts.

In May, the Helena Area Habitat for Humanity took out a full page ad in the Independent Record imploring the governor and other state and local officials to take specific action to address the housing crisis.

Executive Director Jacob Kuntz is among the appointees of the council. He expressed some encouragement at news of the task force on Thursday.

“A lot of action is needed on housing right now,” he said. “… Our big thing here is, when you think about housing it’s not just for the poorest of the people but it’s part of the work to help keep Montana running, part of economics of the state.”

Kuntz described one pitfall of talking about housing as falling into silos on solutions. Often Republicans focus on regulation issues while Democrats will focus on the money aspect in pushing for public funding. He hopes the task force is able to bridge some of those divides and focus on solutions such as infrastructure and incentivizing for-profit and non-profit building.

“Everything needs to be on the table to do this,” Kuntz said. “The solution is to build more homes. There is no other solution.”

The council will meet next Wednesday in Helena.

Other task force members include:

  • Sen. Ellie Boldman, D, Missoula
  • Sen. Greg Hertz, R, Polson
  • Rep. Danny Tenenbaum, D, Missoula
  • Rep. Sue Vinton, R, Billings
  • Patrick Barkey, Ph.D., director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana
  • Terry Brockie, CEO of Island Mountain Development Group
  • Ross Butcher, commissioner of Fergus County
  • Kendall Cotton, president and CEO of the Frontier Institute
  • Nathan Dugan, president and co-founder of Shelter WF
  • Mark Egge, affordable housing advocate, data scientist, and former member of the Bozeman Planning Board
  • Laurie Esau, commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry
  • Jaclyn Giop, president of the Montana Water Well Drillers Association
  • Eugene Graf, owner of E.G. Construction
  • Emily Hamilton, Ph.D., senior research fellow and director of the Urbanity Project at the Mercatus Center
  • Adam Hertz, secretary of the Montana Board of Housing
  • Amanda Kaster, director of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
  • Bob Kelly, mayor of Great Falls
  • Bill Leininger, president of the Montana Association of Realtors
  • Todd O’Hair, president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce
  • Scott Osterman, director of the Department of Commerce
  • Nicole Rolf, senior director of governmental affairs at the Montana Farm Bureau Federation
  • Mike Smith, market president of Glacier Bank
  • Valerie Stacey, environmental health specialist with Lewis and Clark County
  • Don Sterhan, steering committee member of the Montana Housing Coalition; president and CEO of Mountain Plains Equity Group

Tom Kuglin is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. His coverage focuses on outdoors, recreation and natural resources.

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