In the People's Interest

Alex Newby: The Montana Kid and the Housing Rodeo

Stick figure separated from house by a chasm

In 2015, after many years working internationally in Asia, I returned to the Gallatin Valley, where I was born and raised to attend graduate school at Montana State University. Having grown up in Belgrade, and attended MSU for my undergrad degree, I have long been aware of Bozeman’s extremely restrictive housing market. Naturally, as couples do, my wife and I started looking into housing. We inquired at several local banks to see what we might qualify for. Quickly, it became clear our prospects were grim. Thankfully, our local mortgage lenders pointed us in the direction of HRDC. One way HRDC serves the Gallatin Valley is by teaching prospective first time home buyers the knowledge they need to make a go of Montana’s cutthroat housing market. We attended the class, and learned about possibilities for homes, including a project called Willow Springs in Northwest Bozeman. Touring the Willow Springs development revealed quality housing we could imagine a future in. So, after getting approval for a mortgage to purchase a home at Willow Springs, or a similar future development in Bozeman, we put our names on HRDC’s list. We were excited. We liked the homes HRDC were offering, we found a way we might be able to live in the very valley I grew up in!

Enter stage right: Sue Vinton, Greg Gianforte and the 2021 Montana legislative session. Mrs. Vinton works for Vinton Construction, a Billings based operation under the headship of husband Mike Vinton. Sue Vinton is also the House Majority leader for our legislature in Helena. Majority leader Vinton sponsored HB 259 and described the bill this way:

 “HB 259 Prohibits a local government from requiring developers and builders to dedicate real property for the purpose of providing housing for specified income levels or sale prices.”

Pushed through by our legislature, and signed into law by Governor Gianforte, this bill’s passage has been hailed on Majority Leader Vinton’s facebook page, and in GOP circles as “protecting the real estate market as a free market.” 

For my own family, this bill has been devastating. The HRDC list that we had managed to get to the top of became meaningless. My wife and I are only able to live in Bozeman thanks to Montana State University’s family graduate housing program. We are back to square one. So many people among my friends and coworkers in Bozeman and across the state are in the same position as we are. Meanwhile, on hikes and XC skiing throughout the Gallatin valley, one can’t help but observe the abundance of silent single family houses, sitting dark, unoccupied.

And did the real estate market need protecting? According to the Montana Zoning Atlas, recently published by the Frontier Institute based in Helena, exactly 100% of land zoned for housing in Bozeman either prohibits multiple family units, or penalizes any development other than single family housing. One hundred percent protection was already in place. 

My question to Majority Leader Sue Vinton, Governor Greg Gianforte, and the Republican led legislature of Montana is, why are you sacrificing regular people’s freedoms for the market’s “freedom?” 

Sources: Sue Vinton for Montana Facebook page, November 15th 2021 post.

Frontier Institute’s Montana Zoning Atlas

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