In the People's Interest

Monica Tranel: Congress Must Act on Montana’s Housing Crisis

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Now, even moderate-income families find they can’t afford a place to live.

Our parents can’t find a nursing home; our college students can’t afford a place to rent and won’t be able to stay and raise their families here; sheriff’s deputies, electricians, teachers, and small businesses can’t find housing; people with good jobs are living in a camper if they are lucky enough to find a place to park it. Local businesses are cutting hours because the workers they need can’t afford to live nearby.

From Bozeman to Libby and from Browning to Hamilton, our communities share the same challenge: housing. But how that challenge presents itself looks different and requires different solutions.

The housing crisis is doing real damage to western Montana. But we’re not stuck: Local governments, developers, and housing organizations like Bozeman’s HRDC are undertaking smart, thoughtful, and innovative efforts to solve the problem. 

There’s a lot Congress can – and must – do to support these local efforts. 

Effectively addressing Montana’s housing crisis hinges on a thorough understanding of its causes, both on the demand and supply fronts. First, we need to take time to assess what is actually going on, good data makes for good policy. Next, we need to hold accountable those who exploit the market for profit, particularly out-of-state corporate entities, to rebalance the demand side. In tandem, incentivizing the creation of affordable housing through initiatives like right-sizing programs is paramount.

Tax credits can be used to construct affordable housing for low-income families. As even moderate-income families find that they can’t afford a home, Congress must increase funding for housing construction so that more families can have a place to live. Today, the cost of building new living spaces is simply more than many people can afford. We can’t expect developers to take on new housing costs unless they know they can get fair prices and rents. And they can only get fair prices and rents if buyers have healthy household budgets.

But everybody wants to be able to look out the window and see kids playing or walking to school. If young families can’t live here, vitality will be lost, schools will be hollowed out, and civic organizations will atrophy. 

It’s up to each community to reconcile competing concerns about growth. Still, Congress must incentivize local governments and housing organizations to create zoning and building regulations that encourage affordable housing while protecting important community values.

Finally, across Montana and the country, private equity firms are buying up mobile home parks and either jacking up rents or evicting homeowners. In Congress, I will support laws already enacted in some states to give these mobile homeowners a first crack at buying the land before it is sold.

Solving the housing crisis is a tough nut to crack, and local communities are doing a lot to crack it.  Ultimately, homes in Montana should fulfill their fundamental purpose: providing sanctuary and stability for its residents. They should be spaces where families thrive, communities flourish, and dreams take root. As someone fortunate to call Montana home, I am driven by the vision of a future where every child can grow up in a safe, nurturing environment—wherever their journey may lead. But Congress must do more. I will make it my business in Congress to see that it does.

Monica Tranel is the Democratic Candidate for Montana’s first congressional district, an Olympic and World Champion rower, and a dedicated lawyer who has successfully fought against Montana’s unchecked energy monopolies and advancing corporate greed.