By Eric Dietrich MONTANA FREE PRESS
The Montana Legislature is currently engaged in a months-long debate about how to allocate a portion of the state's $2.5 billion budget surplus towards affordable housing. A compromise bill has emerged, which includes $175 million of state General Fund money for housing programs and $50 million from the state coal trust for loans to help developers build rent-restricted apartments.
The package has gained support from business groups, affordable housing developers, organized labor, and Governor Greg Gianforte’s budget office, but still requires approval from the Senate finance committee, as well as votes on the Senate and House floors. If approved, it would provide mortgage assistance for aspiring homeowners and support for construction of rent-restricted housing.
The compromise bill also includes a $1 million allocation for administrative work on housing and a provision that would put $12 million toward funding housing opportunities for state employees who work at major rural institutions.
Montana’s typical home value rose from $267,000 to almost $428,000 since the beginning of 2020, while rents have also risen in many communities. Though lawmakers are sitting on an estimated $2.5 billion surplus, committing to direct spending on housing efforts has proven to be a hard sell in the Legislature, where Republicans control about two-thirds of seats. Several measures that aim to loosen housing markets by reining in development restrictions in an effort to boost construction are heading towards the governor’s desk, where he is expected to sign them. The compromise bill is seen as the best solution to address the widespread pain caused by the state's housing affordability crisis.