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Bozeman City Commission adopts housing plan, looks to prioritize

Bozeman is making another go at a housing plan…

Bozeman City Commission adopts housing plan, looks to prioritize
By Shaylee Ragar Chronicle Staff Writer Nov 19, 2019

The Bozeman City Commission has voted 4-1 to adopt a housing plan after adding a few amendments and hearing opposition from homebuilders.

A draft of the Community Housing Action Plan was released last month. It outlined 17 action strategies to be carried out over at least the next five years, like encouraging employers to assist employees in finding housing, creating permanent housing for people needing emergency shelter and requiring new subdivisions to include long term, deed-restricted affordable housing.

Commissioners voted late Monday to tack on two additional strategies to the list, and then adopted the final plan. The amendments are aimed at streamlining rezoning proposals and planned unit developments.

“Everything in here was very well thought out … I think we have a really good plan to lay a foundation with,” Mayor Cyndy Andrus said.

City staff are still trying to figure what the amendments will look like as action strategies. Martin Matsen, director of community development for the city, said over the next month, staff will examine the strategies to determine what’s needed to complete each, and present findings to the commission in January.

“It’s important for everyone to realize that just because we’ve adopted a plan doesn’t mean all of the work is done. The real work starts now,” Matsen said.

The plan suggests the city allot more money for affordable housing, rework regulations to mandate and incentivize development of affordable housing, and provide a framework for how public and private entities can partner to get more people into homes.

Matsen said some of the strategies could require hiring a new person, more money or changes in state law.

An assessment of Bozeman’s housing market prompted the action plan. It showed that population and job growth will demand at most 6,340 new housing units in town over the next five years.

The study found that about 60% of those units would have to cost below market-value to meet need.

Consultants and a work group made up of interested people workshopped the plan beginning last spring.

Brian Popiel, of the Southwest Montana Building Industry Association, and Bill Fiedler, vice chair of the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce Board, both served on the group that workshopped the plan. At Monday’s meeting, both opposed the plan, saying it was incomplete.

Popiel said he was in favor of how the plan was created, but that it’s missing a strategy for building 6,000 housing units within the five-year time frame. Fiedler echoed that argument and said Bozeman’s building industry does not have the capacity to accomplish all that the plan asks.

“We ask that the commission not rush to set policy just for the sake of setting policy,” Fiedler said.

Commissioner Jeff Krauss was the only vote against the plan. He said the building industry should have been better consulted on what the plan asks it to accomplish.

“We should test the plan for feasibility before we adopt it,” Krauss said before the commission took a vote.

Commissioner Terry Cunningham was also part of the group that workshopped the draft plan and said it needs to move forward with “full force.” He said it will be vital for all parties involved to work together.

“We need our partners to pull up a chair and have a seat at the table,” Cunningham said.

The action plan notes that not every strategy can be implemented at once. Some of the strategies are already in the works — like directing general fund money and tax increment financing toward affordable housing.

Commissioners and city staff will be better able to nail down which strategies are priorities in January.

The city hired affordable housing manager, Loren Olsen, seven months ago to tackle the issue, but he was fired last week. The city has declined to say why. The position was first created in 2017.

Matsen said that anytime there’s a staff change, progress is somewhat slowed. He said the city is looking to hire a new affordable housing manager as soon as possible.

“Our goal is to not lose any steam on this,” Matsen said.

Source: Bozeman City Commission adopts housing plan, looks to prioritize