As the city of Bozeman talks about affordable housing, officials are asking how fast development should happen and where.

More than 50 people met in Bozeman’s historic Story Mansion on Thursday for an open meeting about what the city’s housing efforts look like.

Consultant for the project, Wendy Sullivan, held a poster that reflected the housing and income makeup in Bozeman. Rentals came up short for the area’s demand and as far as homes people can buy:

“When you (make) up to about $95,000, OK, you’ll probably find a home you can afford,” Sullivan said. “But below that, you’re going to be hard pressed to find a diversity of units in the community that you can purchase.”

The range came from Bozeman’s recent housing assessment, which estimated to match the area’s growth, the town needs up to 6,340 new housing units by 2025.

Bozeman’s rate of building a year is about par with that trend but those homes aren’t typically affordable for the area’s average paycheck.

The city is working on its housing action plan. City leaders have said the plan should address a spectrum of housing: places for people living paycheck to paycheck, growing middle-class families or someone early in their career looking for a starter home.

Doing it all would be ambitious for any city, and the people leading Thursday’s workshop said those who live in town should help narrow the future plan’s focus.

One of the city’s guiding principles for that plan is “all residents should have access to decent and affordable housing.”

Alex Newby, who stood in the audience Thursday, asked why “decent” was the benchmark instead of “good to excellent.”

Newby is a Montana State University graduate student renting on campus. He grew up in the Gallatin Valley and can’t afford to buy a home in the area. He said he doesn’t need a place in the heart of Bozeman; he’d be happy in the outskirts or a neighboring town.

“I’d like a solid, small home that gets me access to all the things Montana is known for,” Newby said. “I’d much rather access the river than 2,000 more in square feet. I want to see people who are local, or who have just been here a long time, have the option to afford to stay.”

His pitch of “good or excellent” housing garnered some grumbles from people who said “excellent” costs money and asked where that would come from.

Ann Woodward said she bought her 800-square-foot Bozeman home nearly 20 years ago in the northeast neighborhood. She said she lives on less than $18,000 a year.

“I can afford my lifestyle. I can’t subsidize someone else living here. I’m barely getting by,” Woodward said. “The northeast neighborhood is affordable housing because we already bought it up.”

Vicky Backus said she wants to see a plan that goes beyond setting goals for how many houses to build and what income levels to reach. If housing goes up on the edges of town, she said plans for improved public transportation should follow suit. She said if the action plan calls for money toward housing efforts, it shouldn’t weigh too heavy on people already in town.

“I see the need for affordable housing. The plan also needs to take into consideration the impacts policies could have on existing residents,” she said. “There’s some real concern if it means increased taxes, some people might have to move out of Bozeman.”

A poster titled “your ideas” was filled with sticky notes. One suggested large Bozeman employers should contribute to housing. Another said that developers who replace affordable housing with luxury developments should pay toward housing elsewhere. Another said people who work in Bozeman should be able to live there.

Some criticized the fact the action plan will only set what happens in the city limits, adding the housing crunch is a regional problem.

Christine Walker, another consultant on the project, said goals that come out of the document should align with town policies — which can’t be forced on other local governments or neighboring towns.

People have until May 30 to respond to an online survey about what the city’s action plan should focus on. For more information, visit www.bozeman.net/housing-action-plan.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

Katheryn Houghton is the city government and health reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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