Bozeman Releases Draft Community Housing Plan For Public Comment

Nov 7, 2019

Montana’s fastest growing city is moving one step closer on a plan intended to tackle affordable housing.

Hannah Gullickson, a public school teacher in Bozeman, says she feels like she’s making a good salary but can’t find a home to buy in her price range.

“I’m living in my mom’s basement while we save for the future, but at this point, I have friends’ parents’ houses who are appreciating $5,000, a month. There’s just no way that you can save $5,000 a month in that case,” Gullickson says.“So we are looking at other places, but I was born and raised here. I love Bozeman so I’m going to try and stay.”

Gullickson isn’t alone.

Bozeman needs 5,800 more housing units by 2025, and sixty percent of them need to be below market rate. That’s according to a community needs assessment the city released earlier this year.

Now, a draft community housing action plan outlines 17 strategies Bozeman could adopt to support housing needs for people facing homelessness all the way up to households making 120 percent of the Area Median Income.

At a brown bag lunch Thursday, Bozeman City Commissioner Terry Cunningham shared what some of these strategies could look like.

“One of the things that we’re excited about that’s in the new plan is the establishment of community land trusts,” Cunningham says.

A community land trust would buy land and lease units to homebuyers. People could sell their homes and earn a portion of the increased property value, but the trust would maintain ownership of the land to preserve its affordability for future low- to moderate-income families.

Cunningham says this model would address one of the biggest barriers to affordable housing in Bozeman.

“Land is the most limiting factor in terms of affordability, followed by labor, followed by cost of materials, followed by a regulatory framework for building in Bozeman,” Cunningham says.

He says another strategy is reducing regulations (e.g. parking, open space and density) for affordable housing developments.

Currently the city requires subdividers building more than 10 homes to offer 10 percent of the units at an affordable rate or pay into the city’s workforce housing fund. Cunningham says the draft plan suggests expanding that requirement to include apartments and condominiums.

Cunningham says the city hired consultants who had experience creating affordable housing plans for Big Sky and Whitefish.

One of the brown bag lunch attendees, Chris Shaida, says Bozeman can learn a lot of lessons from other communities. He runs a professional services firm that works on large investments and real estate developments around the world. Shaida says changing attitudes around smaller homes and renting is part of the housing puzzle.

“I think there’s also a huge global trend that’s removing the stigma of renting. In America in the entire post-war period, we thought that any good citizen was supposed to want to own a house, and that’s changing,” Shaida says.

Linda Semones says she keeps track of traffic and parking for her neighborhood association. She says she’s worried a lot of people are going to get priced out of the community.

“Within our block, I know of a renter whose landowner who decided to raise the rent to the average rent for the area, and out he went. He’s gone; he can’t afford it. It happens really, really frequently,” Semones says.

She says she’s hopeful the new city plan can support more accessory dwelling units and the conversion of basements into rental units.

“This is a good plan. It can help a lot of people. It just needs fleshed out now,” Semones says.

The draft plan is open for public comment through November 18 ahead of a final city commission vote.

Commissioner Terry Cunningham says developing the needs assessment cost the city $40,000. The draft community housing plan was $45,000 and partly paid for with grants from the Kendeda Fund and the Community Development Block Grant Program.