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Affordable housing bill is a win-win, but for whom?

by Robert Horne, Jr.
| November 9, 2023 1:00 AM

Contrary to Nathan Dugan’s assertion (Montana Land Use Planning Act makes city planning more inclusive), Senate Bill 382 contains no secrete sauce, magic potion, or any other way to make community planning “more inclusive” or to include “marginalized” citizens. (Note: I was a professional community planner for 44 years and not once did I ever tell anyone, “Oh, you can’t participate in our planning process because you are marginalized.”)    

Dugan posits that “What the law actually does is increase participation in the process….” 

That is incorrect. The law by itself cannot do that. Only the people who actively participate can. But what is really important is for everyone possible to participate, but Nathan doesn’t tell you why because, well, the reason is startling. 

Under SB 382, you will lose the ability to attend a public hearing on a proposed land development and to share any concerns you may have about the development with your elected representatives. 

Oh, the bill’s sponsors and backers will say there is an appeal procedure in the bill, and that is true. However, SB 382 contains no requirement for the local government to issue a public notice that a development proposal has been received or that it is now under review. And, that review will be conducted by a “planning administrator” and not by your planning board or city council in open public session. 

So, how can you appeal something that you never received notice of in the first place? Well, you can’t, unless your local government makes an end run around the bill and issues public notices anyway. Some may do that, others may not. 

If you do learn about a development proposal, and you successfully file an appeal of the “planning administrator’s” decision, you are limited to “those impacts or significantly increased impacts that were not previously identified and considered in the adoption, amendment, or update of the land use plan…” 

But, what does “previously identified and considered” actually mean? Take traffic for example. When a major development is proposed, a traffic impact study is usually required. Does this mean that study will be performed for every property designated for development in the land use plan? Probably not because that cost alone could add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of producing the land use plan. 

Finally, while SB 382 was touted as an “affordable housing bill” there is no guarantee that it will produce any affordable housing at all. Why? Because prices and rents for homes built under SB 382 will float with the market. Any cost savings from shorter review times or material and labor costs will accrue to the developer/builder, simply adding to his profit margin. There is absolutely no mechanism to pass these savings (if they actually exist) along to the buyer or renter. 

So, when Mr. Dugan claimed that SB 382 is a “win-win” he must have been talking about developers, because he sure wasn’t talking about home buyers. 

Robert Horne, Jr. lives in Whitefish.




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