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Republicans are failing on workforce housing

| October 13, 2021 1:00 AM

This summer, I heard from small business owners about how Montana’s lack of housing is holding back our economy. It’s a story I keep hearing, that Main Street wants to hire, and Montanans want to go where the jobs are, but they can’t find a home or apartment they can afford. The typical price of a home in Montana has risen more than 10 percent in the last year, showing us the housing struggles that were localized to just some of our communities have spread to hamstring communities throughout this state.

It’s unacceptable that hard-working Montanans increasingly have to worry whether they can build the life they want in their home state. Montana has the resources to support folks as they buy their first homes, try to make rent, or find space for their growing families. Unfortunately, we’re squandering the opportunities available to us.

During the 2021 Montana Legislative Session, Governor Gianforte teamed up with Republican legislators to give tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy, all while refusing to pass common-sense proposals to tackle the rising costs of housing. They said, we can wait to address this problem until after the session, when we decide how to spend the resources the state receives through the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

Well, decisions are being made now about how to use ARPA funding, and those decisions fail to deliver solutions for folks who are getting priced out of housing. The American Rescue Plan should present an unprecedented opportunity to invest in the infrastructure that drives a thriving economy, like housing for our workforce. It should be a chance to come up with creative solutions for big problems like the rising costs of housing. But yet again, Republicans are falling short.

Of the more than $350 million in ARPA money our state has in hand to help struggling renters and their landlords cover rent, a mere fraction has gone out the door — just five percent of that funding has been put to work. Instead of helping homeowners who got behind on their rent during the pandemic get caught up and make a fresh start, Republicans voted to saddle these folks with yet another loan, or leave them hanging out to dry. And even this misguided proposal doesn’t have money out the door, either.

The result of this myopia from Republicans is that the middle class will continue to feel the squeeze, while the wealthiest get a free pass. Small business owners will keep operating with fewer workers, unable to meet their customers’ needs. Montanans won’t be able to take that better-paying job or build towards economic prosperity for their families. The decisions we make now will impact this state for a generation to come — and Republicans are failing to make the choices that are right for Montana’s middle class.

Mary Ann Dunwell is a Democratic state legislator who represents House District 84, Helena and East Helena.