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Legislative Zoning Change Prompts Bozeman To Put Affordable Housing on November Ballot

As Gallatin County's population grows, more development is moving into land historically used for agriculture. The sign advertises land for sale near Churchill, August 6, 2019.
Rachel Cramer
Yellowstone Public Radio

The City of Bozeman is asking property owners to help fund the construction of new affordable houses in the area.

In July, city officials added an affordable housing levy to the November ballot. Bozeman Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham says introducing the levy is motivated by a legislative decision to ban inclusionary zoning.

“We’re going to have to be more creative because a tool has been taken out of our toolbox,” Cunningham says.

Bozeman’s inclusionary zoning policy nixed by state lawmakers required developers to either provide affordable units in their plans or pay the city in cash or land. The policy raised around half a million dollars since the city adopted it in 2018.

Opponents of inclusionary zoning policies say they increase costs for developers and those increased costs could be passed on to homebuyers.

In Bozeman, 17 homes had been built as a result of the program and Cunningham says 50-60 more homes were on the way before the legislative change.

“It created even more urgency when inclusionary zoning was outlawed for us to really step up the game in terms of providing funding sources,” Cunningham says.

With the proposed property tax, the commission hopes to add around $900,000 annually to its community housing program to fund things like housing grants and down payment assistance. On a house with a taxable market value of $200,000, this would cost around $19 per year.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.