Just as wildlife is being displaced by sprawl at the exurban boundaries of Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley, the current housing frenzy in Bozeman and other Greater Yellowstone towns is displacing workers, young people, single mothers with children and housing seniors who used to be affordable. Photo courtesy of Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock ID 1857352360
EDITOR’S NOTE: Some members of the Bozeman City Commission and building industry lobbyists say that weakening regulations and allowing aggressive infilling in favor of the free market will solve Bozeman’s growing affordable housing crisis. But two former mayors in the op-ed below say it’s actually caused by a myriad of factors, including the city’s inability to cope with growth at the northern end of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. , speculative real estate and a planning department that is both overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with the unprecedented boom that is transforming both Bozeman and Gallatin County, Montana. Affordable housing problems in Bozeman and Big Sky spill over into neighboring valleys and are just as serious in Jackson Hole and Teton Valley, Idaho. Steve Kirchhoff, known as a political progressive, served one term as mayor of Bozeman and was a member of the city commission from 1999 to 2007. Jeff Krauss, known as a libertarian and conservative, served three terms in as mayor of Bozeman and served on the commission from 2004 to 2020.
by Steve Kirchhoff and Jeff Krauss
We would like to ask the Bozeman Municipal Commission a question. Imagine we could wave a magic wand and dramatically increase Bozeman’s housing supply overnight. Let’s say we could wake up tomorrow with 1,000 new units of all kinds of housing. Do you think the average house price would go down?
Our hunch is that most of you, if not all of you, believe the answer is yes. Your actions are those of people who believe that housing unaffordability is caused primarily by low supply in the market, and that we can build our way to affordability. But we suggest that is a false premise. We don’t have a supply problem in our market; instead, we have a market that caters to Wall Street instead of serving the needs of working Bozemanites.
If we woke up tomorrow with 1,000 brand new homes, they would be ripped up by the same people who are ripping them up today: 20% would go to rich people in Bozeman who can afford to upgrade or invest; fifty percent would go to wealthy newcomers; and the remaining thirty percent would go to out-of-state investors.
“If we woke up tomorrow with 1,000 brand new homes, they would be ripped up by the same people who are ripping them up today: 20% would go to wealthy people in Bozeman who can afford to move or invest; 50% would go to wealthy newcomers; and the remaining thirty percent would go to investors outside the state.”
The fact is, without a magic wand, the local construction industry is already building plenty of housing, but the vast majority of it is beyond the reach of working Bozeman citizens. Wealthy investors have skewed Bozeman’s market prices upward to favor themselves while excluding local wage earners from the opportunity to purchase housing. And this perverse reward system also skews prices in other cities and towns in Montana.
A poll released this month by the UM Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative found that most Montana residents are feeling the impacts of the rapid growth they face today. Strong majorities of survey respondents feel that growth is happening too quickly and has led to a decline in their quality of life over the past five years. A whopping 92 percent say the lack of affordable housing is a “very” or “extremely” serious problem.
The same fist of the investor class is pounding on doors and staging hostile takeovers of housing markets in major cities across the United States. Last August, the Washington Post reported that investors had bought a quarter of new homes in Phoenix and almost as many in Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte and Las Vegas. If there’s an invisible hand guiding the housing markets in ‘hot’ cities across the US and Montana, it’s studded with diamond rings, and it doesn’t care if housing will be built for workers. local or not.
“A poll released this month by the University of Montana Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative found that most Montana residents are unhappy with the impacts of rapid growth they face today. A strong majority of survey respondents believe that growth is happening too quickly and has led to a decline in their quality of life over the past five years As many as 92% of respondents say the lack of affordable housing is a “very serious” problem. or “extremely” serious.”
As Bozeman City Commissioners, you have been frustrated filling vacancies in the city. The main reason you can’t fill positions is because potential employees can’t afford housing. Currently, you can’t house your employees, and neither can you by speeding up construction and removing regulations that protect historic neighborhoods from high-density infill.
Well, then, what should you do? We suggest you pass a six-month interim ordinance prohibiting the application of new development in all zoning districts that allow residential construction – a temporary moratorium. You can use the six months to design new zoning and other regulations that require the construction of truly affordable housing for Bozeman workers.
These measures could include a new area code that allows increases in building height and density only when those increases provide long-term affordable housing for Bozeman’s workforce; new code that repeals or severely restricts Airbnb and VRBO properties; and a new code that protects historic neighborhoods from inappropriate, non-contextual and infill development. Of course, other suggestions could be as or more effective than these; the important thing is to take the time necessary to design a better overall housing strategy.
Working residents deserve more attention than you give them. After all, it’s their sweat and tears that have created the beautiful towns and villages of Montana — the “net worth” — that foreign investors are taking for themselves. Truly prosperous cities do not exclude the very people who have built the equity so attractive for investment; instead, they find ways to retain and nurture the people who make their cities work.