Affordable Housing For Sale Sign

A for-sale sign is posted in front of a housing complex Tuesday in Bozeman.

Bozeman staff have a to-do list to try to ease the area’s housing crunch — a list that city officials say will likely take years and millions of dollars to finish.

On Monday, the Bozeman City Commission unanimously agreed to at least six projects city staff should move ahead on from Bozeman’s housing plan.

The list includes researching how Bozeman’s rules and policies could support increasing dense building in parts of town, reviewing building codes for inconsistencies, and creating templates to approve affordable housing projects.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this is a multi-million dollar implementation process,” said Commissioner Michael Wallner, adding that Monday’s vote was about massive public policy.

Commissioners have been grappling with how to help people across income levels secure housing in a town with a shortage and a market that favors high prices.

“Everyone you ask in our city, affordable housing is the No. 1 priority,” Commissioner I-Ho Pomeroy said. “It’s very complicated and a long process. Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Is it working, really?’ But I have some hope and I see that there’s some bright light.”

Pomerory said her only concern is whether the list can actually get done.

Interim City Manager Dennis Taylor said some items could take years, but the projects move the city in the right direction.

“We’ll be marginally better than we are today and significantly better than we were two years ago,” Taylor said.

He said staff will create a calendar that outlines project timelines and when each will need money out of Bozeman’s budget.

How the work impacts what gets built, sold and rented in Bozeman will take time to play out.

Deputy Mayor Cyndy Andrus pointed out that none of the projects approved Monday come with estimations on how many homes could come out of the work.

“Are there any areas that would give us more housing, any strategies that would provide us with more dwelling units, because nothing really in here addresses that,” Andrus asked city staff.

Community Development Director Marty Matsen answered the city’s learned the high cost of land and construction are increasing housing prices, which he said also makes small-scale affordable efforts difficult to pencil out.

One of the projects approved Monday is finding land that could work for future projects and matching that to zoning that opens the door to federal tax breaks for affordable housing.

Matsen said that could break loose large tracts of land in Bozeman for housing.

“That’s probably our lowest hanging fruit,” Matsen said. “Unfortunately, those are privately held, and we don’t have access to them.”

He said in the long run, the projects approved Monday could help.

“But until we really start researching them, we won’t know what rabbit hole were going down,” he said.

The initial list will leave unanswered questions for ideas from Bozeman’s housing plan that staff said need more time to figure out. That includes whether the city can make developers build affordable rentals or how officials can find more money for housing efforts.

Matsen has said whether those projects happen depend on whether state law allows it and if commissioners make policy that prioritizes it — most of the items call for additional staff or money.

“Or some other resource that’s needed that the city’s stretched for quite frankly,” Matsen said.

Even so, commissioners added feedback to that longer list for staff to work on as possible.

Commissioner Terry Cunningham, who has been tethered to the city’s housing work over the last year, offered all but one of the amendments made Monday with a focus on adding more details around what the city does next.

Among those changes, he added an overarching goal that a commissioner will serve as a liaison with major city employers to talk about what role they can play in the housing effort.

That kind of partnership comes up a lot in the city’s housing plan but didn’t make the short-list of initial projects. Cunningham said the addition means that work can continue in the meantime.

“What we’re going to have to do is live up to our commitments,” Cunningham said. “We’ve taken big bites out of the pie and now we’re going to have to find a way to swallow them.”

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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