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As HRDC Collects Public Input, Affordable Housing Projects Move Forward

Screenshot of development projects in Bozeman from the city's Community Developer Viewer, July 18, 2019.
Rachel Cramer
Yellowstone Public Radio
Screenshot of development projects in Bozeman from the city's Community Developer Viewer, July 18, 2019.

A non-profit organization that serves more than 12,000 people in southwest Montana is updating its community needs assessment. It helps determine which projects get the green light and affects how millions of dollars are allocated. Communities across Park, Gallatin and Meagher Counties identified affordable housing as one of the top priorities in the last assessment three years ago.

Human Resource Development Council is a non-profit organization that tries to identify gaps and barriers to community needs (e.g. housing, food and nutrition, youth development) and then find solutions.

Every three years, HRDC collects public input through surveys, town halls and focus groups and uses that information to come up with a strategic plan.

“If you could say one thing that you want HRDC to accomplish in this community in the next three years, what would it be? That helps us prioritize because there are so many needs across all the communities we serve. We really want to make sure we’re doing the one that has the greatest impact in the most efficient way possible,” says Heather Grenier, HRDC’s president and CEO.

HRDC launched its 2019 Community Needs Assessment last week with an online survey. Special Projects Manager Katharine Sutphen says people have until the end of August to complete it.

“Once the survey closes, we take about a week-and-a-half, two weeks to really analyze what data we’ve captured and then from that, we’ll pull those main needs that we’ve evaluated. We will be having have 8-10 town halls throughout our areas of focus,” says Sutphen.

The dates and locations of those town halls will be available on HRDC’s website in a few weeks.

Sutphen says HRDC aims to have a draft of the needs assessment ready at the end of the year with final approval from the board in January.

The last community needs assessment in 2017 identified affordable housing, transportation and behavioral health as the top priorities in the communities where HRDC works.

HRDC President and CEO Heather Grenier says addressing affordable housing looks a little different in every community. 

In Belgrade, HRDC purchased 20 manufactured homes to provide affordable rental units.

“We also required and preserved a 24-unit apartment complex called Big Sky Villas. That’s also in Belgrade. We’re currently constructing phase one of a 52-unit condominium development in Big Sky that’s affordable and attainable home ownership,” says Grenier. 

Bozeman’s City Commissioners gave final approval Monday for HRDC’s Willow Springs development in the northeastern part of the city. Families making between $30,000 and $40,000 dollars a year — about 70 percent of the city’s median income — qualify to purchase one of the 24 townhomes. Construction is slated to begin later this summer.

Bozeman’s commissioners also approved the growth policy and zoning amendments for the Bridger View development. The Trust for Public Land donated the eight acre plot to HRDC to develop 63 units. Half of those will be reserved for affordable home ownership.

At the same time, Bozeman is drafting its affordable housing action plan. The city gathered public feedback on housing issues through an online questionnaire in May. 

Now, a working group is coming up with recommended tools the city can use. They range from modifying zoning codes to partnering with developers to build homes on publicly-owned land.

Loren Olson is Bozeman’s new affordable housing program manager who’s leading the action plan. Before joining in April, he was a home loan officer. 

Olson says a lot of his customers in Bozeman who had stable employment, good credit scores and money for a down-payment qualified for a $200,000 loan.

“That’s the good news. Bad news is you might not be able to find anything to buy in that price range without traveling a great distance. A fellow loan officer of mine — I met with him last summer — he even said up to 75 percent of the people he met with fell into that category where there just wasn’t inventory,” says Olson. 

Bozeman’s median sale price of a home is around $400,000.

The city needs an additional 1,500 housing units to catch up to current demand, and around 6,000 new units by 2025, according to Bozeman’s 2019 Community Housing Needs Assessment. At least 60 percent of the new units would need to be subsidized to match the community’s need for affordable housing.

Bozeman’s affordable housing working group will host community meetings in August to get public feedback on the draft action plan, and present its recommendations to Bozeman City Commissioners in October. 

As one city takes another step in its affordable housing plan, another is facing a lawsuit over its process. A land use consulting company is suing the City of Whitefish, saying two sub-committees violated Montana law by having closed-door meetings while developing its affordable housing policy.

The city manager said the sub-committees only conducted research for the Whitefish Strategic Housing Plan Committee. He said Tuesday the city had not been served any court documents, and it’s unclear if the lawsuit will go forward.