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Mayor: Bozeman strong despite challenges of 2021 | BDC

Few key take aways from Mayor Andrus’s speech – including changes in zoning on the table to allow for more affordable housing and possible future increased limitations on short term rentals in city limits.

Mayor: Bozeman strong despite challenges of 2021
By Nora Shelly Chronicle Staff Writer Feb 2, 2022

Big problems — namely COVID-19, a housing crisis and drought — plagued Bozeman in 2021, Mayor Cyndy Andrus said during her state of the city address this week, but it’s not all bad news.

“2021 was anticipated as a year of recovery, rebounding and rebuilding, but it was not,” Andrus said during her speech in front of the commission Feb. 1. “Instead, it was a year of altering, adjusting and adapting.”

Though what was once thought to be a short-term crisis has now turned into a two-year pandemic, Andrus said she feels the state of the city remains strong.

In 2021, the census results officially made Bozeman a metropolitan city with a population of nearly 54,000 people. The city’s economy is growing as well, Andrus noted — 738 business licenses were issued in 2021, compared to 571 in 2020. There were also 648 commercial building permits issued, with a total value of over $184 million.

But, Andrus acknowledged, growth hasn’t been good for everyone.“We all know our community is growing and changing,” Andrus said. “While this transformation has been taking place slowly for some time, it can feel like it happened overnight.”

And while Andrus lauded the area’s low unemployment, she also noted worker shortages impacting many sectors, including the city, which averaged vacancies of 12% in the last year.

Andrus said the city is trying to address the issue with a recruitment and retention plan, which includes a parental leave policy, opportunities to work from home and exploring day care for city employees.

As home sale prices and rents continued to ratchet up last year and the pandemic exacerbated homelessness issues, the city took some blows to its work on affordable housing, which many point to as the root of local workforce issues.The state Legislature outlawed a main part of Bozeman’s affordable housing strategy that required developers to sell a portion of their homes at an affordable price or pay cash in lieu to the city.

A ballot question to establish an affordable housing levy also failed in November’s local elections.

Andrus pointed to a few positive endeavors, including a grant of $500,000 from the city’s Community Housing Fund to a new affordable housing project that will also include a day care center.

Another grant helped preserve 140 low income housing units, and the commission also voted to allocate $2 million of tax increment financing funds to a project in the midtown area that will create 92 below-market rate units.

This year, Andrus said the city will begin putting into action a consultant report detailing how the city’s code can be changed to support affordable housing, and work with partners, like Bozeman Health and the county, to use land they own for affordable or workforce housing.

The city is also planning on reviewing its short-term rental ordinance, Andrus said, including considering the step of limiting licenses of new short-term rental properties.“Unfortunately, the city government has very few tools to address our ongoing housing crisis,” Andrus said. “State regulations prohibit us from using tools that other communities across the country use to provide affordable housing.”

Andrus also called on the state Legislature to address tax issues. A city effort to get the Legislature to pass a local option sales tax bill also failed in 2021.

While the city decreased property taxes in its last budget, Andrus warned the case may not be the same this time around.

“It is time the Legislature and the governor move past the political rhetoric and work on real tax reform and real tax fairness,” Andrus said.Andrus also spoke to the city’s efforts on combating climate change, including purchasing electric vehicles and installing solar panels on the roof of the under construction Public Safety Center.The city is continuing to work with Missoula, Helena and NorthWestern Energy on establishing a green tariff and additional renewable energy options for consumers, Andrus said, and will be considering policies to reduce water consumption in the coming weeks, months after the summer drought forced the city to implement water restrictions.The city is also continuing work on diversity, equity and inclusion, Andrus said, and plans to soon publish a dashboard with data on equity issues.

Andrus and Commissioner Christopher Coburn, along with city staff, are planning to travel to Eugene, Oregon, this spring to study their mobile crisis intervention program as a step to implementing a similar program in Bozeman.Andrus also noted another priority of the city commission is to increase allocations for support services.“We need to work together to address climate change. We need to act together to find solutions to our housing crisis. and we need to come together to build the welcoming community we all want, and we need to come together to build the welcoming community we all want,” Andrus said.
Source: Mayor: Bozeman strong despite challenges of 2021 | City |