Montana's Housing Puzzle: Mid-Legislative Session Update

Lawmakers have advanced several bills aimed at making at least a dent in the challenges facing renters and aspiring homebuyers. Here’s where things stand as of early March.


Several bills are being considered by lawmakers in the Montana Legislature to tackle the problem of rising housing costs in the state, driven by a finite supply of homes and rapid in-migration from other states. A University of Montana poll found that 75% of residents consider the lack of affordable housing a very serious issue. The measures being considered include zoning reforms, subsidies for low-income housing, and renter protections. The proposed zoning bills include Senate Bill 245, which would require larger cities to allow apartment-style or mixed-use residential construction in commercial-use districts; Senate Bill 323, which would require larger cities to allow duplex, triplex, and fourplex-style housing anywhere single-family homes are allowed; and Senate Bill 379, which includes slightly watered-down versions of the minimum lot size, accessory dwelling unit, and manufactured housing provisions. The Montana League of Cities and Towns has forwarded Senate Bill 382, which would rework the planning statutes that apply to larger municipalities in the state’s most populous counties to allocate space to build housing to accommodate population growth.

Low-income housing advocates are also pushing for legislation to make more state money available for efforts to build price-controlled housing for low-income residents. House Bill 546 would expand an existing state program that uses money from the Montana Coal Trust to provide low-interest loans for affordable housing projects. An as-yet-unintroduced bill, draft LC 2310, would create a state tax credit to complement the existing federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.

Bills that aim to expand legal protections for renters and mobile home park residents have seen mixed results at the Legislature this year. A bill that would have required application fee refunds for unsuccessful rental applicants, House Bill 245, was tabled in committee. Senate Bill 245 includes a provision that would ban landlords from rejecting prospective tenants based solely on their source of income, but other proposed renter protection bills have not advanced.

Local government leaders have pushed back on most of the proposed zoning reforms, arguing that heavy-handed zoning statute rewrites would prevent local building officials from ensuring new developments avoid problems with stormwater runoff, sewer capacity, and parking. House Bill 337, which would have required cities to allow construction on home lots as small as 2,500 square feet, and House Bill 553, which would have required local governments to treat manufactured housing like site-built structures and make it easier to build accessory dwelling units, were both voted down by the House Local Government Committee.

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