Monday, February 06, 2023

Solving housing crisis requires multifaceted response

by Daily Inter Lake
| July 24, 2022 12:00 AM

It didn’t take long for Gov. Greg Gianforte to put his newly created Housing Task Force to work. Committee members were appointed through an executive order July 14, and one week later the group held its first meeting at the state capitol.

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

To his credit, the Republican governor has captured a panel of varied perspectives that will be responsible for setting out action items to take on the state’s worsening housing crisis.

The task force includes Republican and Democrat legislators, and conservative and progressive policy advocates. Finance executives, Realtors and developers will sit alongside affordable housing leaders and environmental health specialists.

This diversity of viewpoints will be key, as the best solution model will come from inclusive debate.

Yet, it remains to be seen how accepting the governor will be of ideas that don’t align with his own free-market-cures-all biases. At the onset of the task force meeting last week, Gianforte clearly laid out what he believes to be the crux of the attainable housing deficit: Not enough homes to accommodate the influx of Montana newcomers, which is ultimately rooted in burdensome red tape holding back prospective builders.

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

In some regards, that’s true. Tweaking zoning regulations that stymie multi-family housing projects would be helpful in boosting supply that isn’t keeping up with demand. The state should also look at streamlining Department of Environmental Quality permit procedures, where developers say projects linger for too long.

But getting government out of the way also means allowing local control when appropriate.

Gianforte and the Republican-led Legislature gutted locally created housing programs in Whitefish and Bozeman during the 2021 legislative session. House Bill 259 barred cities from utilizing inclusionary zoning, which has been deployed with varying results to address affordable-housing shortages across the country.

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

“That does not guarantee that the developer will use that savings and pass it along to the homeowner in a hypercompetitive market,” he rightly noted.

As Gianforte stated at the onset of the task force meeting, there is no single bullet that will correct the market. He should heed his own advice, and note that what works in Glendive or Havre may not align with the needs of the Gallatin or Flathead valleys.

The housing committee is set to submit its first draft plan in just a few months. The pressure is on and time is of the essence.

We’re optimistic that this well-rounded group is up to the task and we look forward to seeing a range of possible solutions to a problem that is affecting every community of every size in varying ways.

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

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