Four Anti-Affordable Housing Laws in Bozeman
Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Housing prices in Bozeman are skyrocketing in Bozeman because we've made rules that make it difficult (and therefore expensive) to build housing and skewed the rules in favor of large (see: expensive) houses on big lots.
Right now, the City is part of the problem. If the City of Bozeman wishes to be part of the solution, these are four rules that we must change:
Over half of Bozeman’s residential land is zoned for the exclusive use of expensive free-standing single-family homes. More-affordable types of housing (such as duplexes, triplexes, rowhouses or condos) are excluded by law from these parts of town (also excluding, thereby, people who cannot afford or choose not to live in a single-family house). This forces the remaining 49% of town to absorb 100% of our growth.
Off-street Parking Minimum Requirements
A neighbor just remodeled her house to create separate bedrooms for her two pre-teen children. To do so, she also had to create two additional expensive and unnecessary off-street parking spaces, even though her children are 9 and 11, and neither is likely to have a car before leaving for college.
By requiring houses to provide excessive off-street parking, we drive up the cost of every house. A family can save money by choosing to have only one vehicle, but that family must still pay for car storage (parking) for every bedroom they occupy (and for every bedroom they don’t occupy) even if they only have one car.
Lot Size and Lot Width Minimums
Bozeman Founding Father William Beall platted 30’ wide lots, yet modern city code requires a minimum of 50’. Some lots in the Northeast Neighborhood are less than 2000 square feet (SF) in total size, yet Bozeman requires a minimum of 4000 SF (recently reduced from 5000 SF).
Combined with our exclusionary zoning that limits housing to one unit per lot, lot size minimums make it all-but-impossible to build modest, affordable single-family housing. Lot size minimums keep density low and prices high.
Onerous ADU Restrictions
Tucked away in back yards and off alleys, Accessory Dwelling Units (a.k.a. backyard cottages) provide low-cost housing and add additional housing in developed neighborhoods without changing neighborhood character. Special use permits, parking requirements, site location requirements, required setbacks, and owner-occupancy requirements all make it expensive and difficult to build ADUs. This is why, last year, only 14 ADUs were built.
If we boosted our annual ADU building from 14 to 50, we’d close half of the gap of the housing supply shortfall that’s driving our housing prices through the roof. Seattle knows this, which is why Seattle just passed comprehensive ADU reform based on Vancouver’s model, where 35% of single-family houses have an ADU (compared to 1% in Bozeman).
These four rules are keeping new middle-class housing from being built in Bozeman, keeping prices high. As a community in crisis, it's time for these rules to go.
Removing these rules costs us nothing—and just might help Bozeman remain a place where teachers, firefighters, entrepreneurs and ski patrollers can afford to own a home.