Affordable housing is the most pressing challenge facing the Bozeman community. Failure to stem runaway growth in housing costs will hollow out our community from the inside out. As your City Commissioner, my top priority would be acting to ensure that those who live here can afford to stay here.
Demand for housing in Bozeman is outstripping supply, driving prices out of reach for middle-class residents. Bozeman’s recent housing needs assessment estimates that Bozeman has a backlog of 1700 housing units, and needs to be building 900 units per year to keep up with demand.
HRDC's 300 SF "Humble Home" on Beall Street, priced at $120,000 (Image Source)
The first and most obvious solution is to build more housing, of all shapes and sizes. We should distribute this growth throughout the city, especially with a focus on creating housing on undeveloped land within city limits and gradually increasing density in developed areas—creating housing without creating sprawl.
Increase Supply, Diversity of New Housing Units
Making Bozeman a preferred place of business for home builders
Making Bozeman a preferred place of business for home builders is a simple and common-ground solution for meeting our housing needs.
Permitting and inspection delays create uncertainty and increase the cost of building housing. The City of Bozeman takes eight weeks to complete the same building permit process that Belgrade completes in a week. Inconsistencies in the way that identical applications are processed can add weeks of additional delay. Delays in completing required inspections create uncertainty and can collectively add weeks to construction timeline of a home, shortening our already short summer construction season, and driving some home builders to build in Belgrade or elsewhere, rather than Bozeman [source].
These avoidable delays make Bozeman a less attractive place to do business as a home builder and do not add value or quality to what gets built. To improve, we should:
Streamline the building permit process. Process all permit applications within four weeks, and improve consistency in the way permit applications are reviewed.
Treat planning (permit review) and building inspections as essential city services and ensure we're paying adequate market wages to prevent delays due to chronic understaffing in these departments
Bozeman's permit process targets 8 – 10 weeks. Belgrade's permit process is typically complete in 3 – 5 business days. Streamlining Bozeman's process can help encourage more home builders to build housing in Bozeman, without compromising quality.
Image Source: Strong Towns
Reduce Barriers to Building ADUs
One common-sense solution leading to more "missing middle" housing is to ease the process for adding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs, sometimes called “granny flats” or “in-law suites”). ADUs allow homeowners to add small additional dwellings to their existing lot, which can provide housing for an aging parent, live-in help for the elderly, or rental income.
Bozeman can reduce barriers to ADUs by simplifying its rules for ADU creation (e.g. eliminate off-street parking requirements, allow greater flexibility for both attached and detached units, etc.) following the blueprint from Vancouver and Seattle. Speaking of blueprints, Bozeman's planning department could provide "Ready-build" plan sets of pre-approved construction plans to reduce the costs, delays, and barriers to building.
For more about ADUs, see my blog post ADUs: why do we like them, and how do we get more of them?
The other side of housing affordability is wages. As your commissioner, I would advance a policy of $15 minimum wage for both city staff and for any contractors doing business with the city (this policy can be combined with the City’s Equal Pay requirement). While state law prevents Bozeman from creating a city-wide minimum wage, the city can promote a city-wide minimum wage, and provide a recognition program for employers who join the city in pledging to pay a livable wage.