Montana has chance to make homes affordable

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Montana, in both large and small communities, has a shortage of safe homes that people across a spectrum of incomes can afford. That impacts everything from a local business’s ability to recruit workers to having options for seniors and others who are spending too much of their income on their homes while foregoing basic needs. Safe and secure homes are critical for our children to thrive regardless of their family’s financial situation. More and more we are coming to understand the connection between stable homes and better health outcomes. This problem is not new, nor is there one single solution to meeting the needs of our communities.

The Montana Housing Coalition represents a diverse group of local housing authorities, for-profit and not-for-profit housing developers, cities, contractors, lenders, statewide organizations and concerned individuals who recognize the importance of homes people can afford to Montana’s economy and our way of life. MHC advocates for a coherent state housing policy that creates homes that working families, seniors, and Veterans can afford to rent or buy.

Fortunately, in 2019 we have a real opportunity to make progress, thanks to members of the bipartisan Interim Local Government Committee of the Montana Legislature, and particularly the support of Missoula Representative Adam Hertz, who has made Montanans’ ability to afford their homes a priority. The interim committee approved three bills that now advance to the full legislature, each offering a piece of the puzzle that would make a difference for Montana families. Creating homes that are safe, stable and within our means doesn’t just involve new construction. It can include resources to rehabilitate older properties or repurpose existing buildings. Reducing infrastructure costs can also be helpful in decreasing the cost of development and therefore the cost of the home. The three bills approved by the interim committee offer tools that can be used to promote all of the above.

These tools will generate up-front economic activity and create jobs in our communities. One bill would create a Workforce Housing Tax Credit that allows the state to access hundreds of millions of untapped Federal dollars and encourages private sector investment in homes Montanans can afford. The credit could be used in both rural and urban areas to build or preserve and rehabilitate existing homes. It can be used to build homes the workforce can afford as well as homes for seniors, Veterans, people living with disabilities and minors aging out of foster care. Fifteen other states already have this tax credit in place and have demonstrated amazing results.

Another proposal creates a loan program for homes Montanans can afford using coal tax trust fund investments that would leverage more private investment and benefit the economy. Finally, a third bill would give local governments the option to apply for grants from the existing Big Sky Economic Development Program and the Treasure State Endowment Program to help with infrastructure costs for homes Montanans can afford.

MHC looks forward to having these measures considered in the 2019 session of the Montana Legislature. These Montana solutions will help strengthen our communities for generations to come. We encourage Montanans to engage their elected leaders and local officials in this important discussion.

Sheila Rice is the chair of the Montana Housing Coalition.

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