HELENA — In Helena on Tuesday, October 17, 2023, Governor Greg Gianforte’s housing task force met to start the next phase of its work.
Gianforte established the task force last summer. By December, they had produced two reports, recommending steps state and local governments could take to respond to Montana’s need for available and affordable housing.
A number of those recommendations passed through the Legislature during their 2023 session and were signed into law. However, leaders say that doesn’t mean they’re running out of options for tackling the state’s housing shortage.
“Montana communities are still in dire need of additional housing, and those Montanans who need it need us to do our good job and good work here in the future,” said Chris Dorrington, director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, who chairs the task force.
In June, Gianforte issued an executive order, extending the task force through 2025. At Tuesday’s meeting, he touted the work they’ve already done – bringing forward proposals for regulatory changes, infrastructure improvements, zoning reform and workforce development.
“Because of the work you did, Director and the rest of the team, we’re really ahead of the rest of the country in reforms,” Gianforte said. “But, as I say, better is always possible.”
On Tuesday, Dorrington told task force members he wants them to take a close look at recent housing projects from across Montana – both those that have moved forward and those that faced obstacles. From there, he hopes to get a better understanding of both what can help get a project over the finish line and what can hold development back.
“We'll be able to ask a lot of questions, dig in to what is missing or what did win, and carry that forward into a new set of recommendations and probably refinement for the 2025 session or executive branch agencies and local governments to consider and implement,” said Dorrington.
Some task force members said Tuesday that, after the proposals they’ve already made, it might require some creative thinking to find the next set of recommendations.
“I think some of the solutions now will probably be a little harder to come by,” said Todd O’Hair, president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce. “I think we kind of picked some of the low hanging, easy fruit.”
Dorrington said he’s confident they still have a lot more they can do – and a lot to learn about the housing issue.
“There's probably ample number of voices yet to share their perspectives,” he said.
One big difference this time is that the task force has a little more time to work on their next set of recommendations, since there’s not a legislative session coming up next year. They’re expected to hold their next meeting in January, and Dorrington said they could finalize their next report sometime in the spring.