Montana housing task force sets process, hears from public at first meeting

Montana Housing Task Force
Posted at 8:05 PM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 22:05:51-04

HELENA — A new housing task force organized by Gov. Greg Gianforte held its first meeting Wednesday in Helena, and the discussion quickly drew out the size of the challenge they’re taking on.

“I’ll be candid: This is no small task,” Gianforte said during his introductory remarks. “It’s complicated.”

Gianforte issued an executive order last week creating the task force, charging them with recommending solutions for making housing in Montana more affordable and attainable. During Wednesday’s meeting, the task force took public testimony that made it clear these issues are on the minds of many people in the state.

“I was lucky enough to grow up in Whitefish at a time when neighborhoods were mixed, with folks of all different economic backgrounds,” said Mallory Phillips, a Whitefish resident. “And I see the very big impact of losing people who are not just wealthy in our communities.”

“I think all of us have seen that this housing crisis is being felt by Montanans across the state and at every level of income and every section of the place we live,” said Tor Gudmundsson, communications director for Habitat for Humanity of Missoula. “Ultimately, we have an opportunity here to find solutions together.”

The task force is made up of more than 25 members, including lawmakers from both parties, local government leaders, housing advocates, developers, business leaders and researchers.

“Each one of you has an important voice,” Gianforte said. “We’ve picked you specifically because you represent a facet of this very complex problem. We need your voice here at this table, and I encourage you to bring your best ideas throughout this process. We want to have an actionable result – specific things we can actually do, either in rule or in statute or in public-private partnerships.”

Gianforte placed some of the blame for rising costs on housing inventory that hasn’t grown as quickly as Montana’s population, on inflation and supply chain issues and on government regulations.

Task force chair Chris Dorrington, director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, identified four broad areas for members to dig into: construction, regulation, economics and local issues. He called on them to identify specific challenges to the housing supply, to give them a place to start when thinking about possible solutions.

The task force will initially meet every two weeks. Dorrington said the goal is to have draft recommendations ready by mid-September and a polished report to the governor by mid-October.

During the meeting, almost everyone who spoke echoed the same thought: There will be no “silver bullet” to solve all the housing issues, which have arisen over years and aren’t only affecting Montana.

“There’s only one problem with this whole process: We’re trying to solve in a month what we haven’t been able to solve in 20 years,” said task force member Patrick Barkey, director of the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

The next task force meeting is tentatively set for Aug. 1. Dorrington said the state is putting together a website for the task force which will eventually include meeting schedules and a form to submit comments and suggestions.