Housing crisis

Solving the housing crisis requires a multifaceted response

It didn’t take long for Governor Greg Gianforte to put his new housing task force to work. Committee members were appointed by executive order on July 14, and a week later the group held its first meeting at the state Capitol.

Some might ask, “What took so long? To which we reply “Better late than never”.

To his credit, the Republican governor has captured a diverse panel of viewpoints that will be tasked with defining action on the state’s worsening housing crisis.

The task force includes Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as conservative and progressive policy advocates. Financial executives, real estate agents and developers will rub shoulders with affordable housing leaders and environmental health specialists.

This diversity of viewpoints will be essential, because the best model for a solution will come from an inclusive debate.

Still, it remains to be seen to what extent the governor will accept ideas that do not align with his own free-market biases. At the start of the task force meeting last week, Gianforte made clear what he believes to be the crux of the achievable housing deficit: not enough homes to accommodate the influx of newcomers from Montana, which is ultimately entrenched in a heavy bureaucracy which hinders the prospects of builders.

In the Governor’s words, government is a wet blanket that just needs to get out of the way.

In some ways, that’s true. Adjusting zoning regulations that hinder multi-family housing projects would be helpful in stimulating supply that is not keeping up with demand. The state should also consider streamlining permitting procedures from the Department of Environmental Quality, where developers say projects drag on too long.

But removing the government also means allowing local control, where appropriate.

Gianforte and the Republican-led Legislature gutted locally created housing programs in Whitefish and Bozeman during the 2021 legislative session. House Bill 259 banned cities from using inclusionary zoning, which was rolled out with mixed results in addressing affordable housing shortages across the country.

Bozeman Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham made a good point during public comments when he suggested to the committee that reducing regulations to reduce construction costs doesn’t always equate to lower home prices or to more accommodation.

“It does not guarantee that the developer will use these savings and pass them on to the owner in a hypercompetitive market, he rightly noted.

As Gianforte stated at the start of the task force meeting, there is no single solution that will fix the market. He should heed his own advice and note that what works in Glendive or Le Havre may not meet the needs of the Gallatin or Flathead valleys.

The housing committee is due to submit its first draft plan in a few months. The pressure is high and time is running out.

We’re confident this well-rounded group is up to the task, and we look forward to seeing a range of possible solutions to a problem that affects every community of all sizes in different ways.

But ultimately, it’s up to Gianforte to adopt a multifaceted response, even if it goes against his own political desires.