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Gianforte announces housing affordability task force

A house with a for sale sign in front of a home.
Eric Dietrich
Montana Free Press
Gov. Greg Gianforte has created a housing task force whose goal is to craft recommendations for addressing Montana's housing crunch.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte issued an executive order Thursday creating a “housing advisory council” tasked with suggesting ways for the state “to increase the supply of affordable, attainable workforce housing.”

In a release announcing the task force’s creation, the governor acknowledged that housing has been a long-term affordability issue for Montanans and blamed the state’s housing shortage on burdensome regulations.

“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. “Burdensome, restrictive, and unnecessary regulations have left Montana with a longstanding shortage of housing that continues to drive up the prices Montanans pay for their home.”

The governor’s executive order specifically cites underbuilding of starter homes, supply-chain breakdowns, construction labor shortages and zoning restrictions as factors limiting the state’s supply of housing that’s affordable for Montana workers.

Gianforte, a Republican, has faced criticism in recent months for aggressively promoting the state as a relocation destination for former residents while current residents face a housing crunch, and for not spending some federal coronavirus relief money that had been earmarked for housing efforts.

Legislative Democrats said earlier this week they want to spend $500 million of the state’s budget surplus on incentives to promote affordable home construction. At a press conference Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Pat Flowers of Belgrade said the housing crunch “is, without a doubt, the No. 1 issue in Montana.”

The goal of the new housing task force, Gianforte said, is “to get to the bottom of the problem and provide solutions to get us out of it.”

Citing figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the governor’s office noted Thursday that the state’s population grew by 9.6% between 2010 and 2020 but added new housing units at a rate of only 6.6%. It also said the state’s rental vacancy rate, as estimated by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, fell from 5.7% in 2010 to 4.4% in 2020.

Gianforte’s office also cited figures from the National Association of Home Builders, which estimates that the average portion of a new single family home’s cost attributable to regulation grew from $65,224 in 2011 to $93,870 last year.

According to real estate company Zillow’s home value index, the typical price for a Montana home has risen by 54% since the beginning of 2020, up from $291,000 in January 2020 to $448,000 last month.

The governor’s office said Thursday that the new housing task force will be chaired by Chris Dorington, director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The group also includes the following members:

  • Sen. Ellie Boldman, D-Missoula
  • Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson
  • Rep. Danny Tenenbaum, D-Missoula
  • Rep. Sue Vinton, R-Billings
  • Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Laurie Esau
  • Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director Amanda Kaster 
  • Department of Commerce Director Scott Osterman 
  • University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research Director Patrick Barkey
  • Island Mountain Development Group CEO Terry Brockie
  • Fergus County Commissioner Ross Butcher
  • Kendall Cotton, president and CEO of the Frontier Institute
  • Nathan Dugan, president and co-founder of Shelter WF
  • Mark Egge, an affordable housing advocate and data scientist
  • 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
  • Montana Board of Housing Secretary Adam Hertz 
  • Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly 
  • Jacob Kuntz, executive director of the Helena Area Habitat for Humanity
  • Bill Leininger, president of the Montana Association of Realtors
  • Todd O’Hair, president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce
  • Nicole Rolf, Montana Farm Bureau Federation
  • Mike Smith, market president of Glacier Bank
  • Valerie Stacey, an environmental health specialist with Lewis and Clark County
  • Don Sterhan, steering committee member of the Montana Housing Coalition and president and CEO of Mountain Plains Equity Group

An initial task force meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 20, the governor’s office said. A spokesman confirmed Thursday that that meeting will be open to the public.