GREAT FALLS — Affordable housing has always been an issue in Montana. It seems to have taken on added importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Montana Housing Coalition, since 1990, Montana rents have increased by 26% compared to 16% nationally, homeownership rates in the Treasure State have dropped from 70% to 67% since 2006, and nearly 30,000 Montana homes are in poor or very poor condition.
The MHC is a statewide policy making group of developers, communities. agencies, and others dedicated to changing those statistics. One place they plan to be heard is the 2021 Legislature, starting with an effort to increase the coal tax loan fund by $15 million.
“That first $15 million was expended in seven different projects across Montana in the first six months of it being available," said MHC board chair Sheila Rice. "So we know that there’s a huge need for additional funding to create these homes and apartments that are affordable.”
The MHC also hopes for the establishment of a state housing tax credit for investors putting money into housing projects, something Rice says will be helpful in a COVID-19 challenged budget year.
“But when you look at the ability of creating a tax credit which immediately starts construction for development of apartments all across Montana, rural and urban, yet the economic impact on the state budget is not felt for three to four years later,” said Rice.
Finally, the MHC will be advocating for "opportunity to purchase" legislation. It would give residents of manufactured home communities the chance, as a cooperative, to purchase the community if it goes up for sale, assuring justified lot rent increases. Rice says there are currently 15 resident-owned communities in Montana.
“If that rent goes up too fast, if there’s other consequences happening to the land, maybe deferred maintenance, then the value of their home is decreased," said Rice. "And they could also actually be displaced because they can longer afford a higher rent.”