Affordable Housing, Construction

In this Chronicle file photo, a framer cuts lumber for the walls of a house off of Slough Creek Drive.

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Bozeman put the call out this week for firms to compete to tell the city what it could do to help make housing affordable.

The city’s asking consultants to draft proposals for a citywide housing need assessment and to build an action plan that guides Bozeman’s Affordable Housing Program for the next five years.

According to the request, the median price for a single family home in Bozeman reached more than $400,000 in March. Paired with that, renting is getting pricier as vacancy rates hold near 0 percent.

“As the cost of living continues to rise in the city, locals are faced with the serious issue of access to affordable housing,” according to the request for proposal, prepared by Bozeman affordable housing program manager Matt Madsen.

Madsen said a needs assessment looks into all the pieces that contribute to a city’s affordability paired with community input. Beyond housing prices, the study will look at things like the cost and availability of land along with transportation systems that connect where people live to jobs, schools and shopping.

Community Development Director Marty Matsen said Bozeman’s due for a needs assessment. The last one wrapped up in early 2012.

“The Bozeman economy was in a really different place than we are now,” he said. “We were talking about the need for workforce housing and the need for housing in general, not necessarily that housing is too expensive.”

That assessment provided the bones of the city’s Affordable Housing Action Plan, which called for 200 new low-income rentals built from 2012 through 2016. Bozeman still hasn’t hit that mark. Since 2012, developers brought 184 low-income rentals to the city — 136 of those units came from one major project.

In 2015, Bozeman leaders created a voluntary ordinance that offered developers an incentive to keep 10 percent of the homes they build below market prices. The city set a benchmark goal of the creation of 27 affordable homes, which as of last year still hadn’t happened.

Last July, the ordinance became a mandate. So far, that’s led to eight affordable homes for those who qualify. As more projects make their way through city planning, Matsen said Bozeman’s stock of affordable housing will start to grow. But he said that’s a slow and relatively unpredictable process.

City leaders are looking for ways outside the mandate to spur affordable housing.

Bozeman’s pool of money for housing will hold roughly $556,400 going into the next budget year, which starts in July. That money’s gone toward things like helping home buyers afford downpayments or reducing developers’ costs of building through impact fee reimbursements.

As commissioners finalized next year’s budget on Monday, they decided to add at least $166,188 to that balance over the next year from the city’s general fund.

Commissioner Terry Cunningham said how those dollars get used is still uncertain.

“The issue is we’re trying to make budget decisions without knowing what the needs are and what the plan is for that money,” Cunningham said Wednesday.

He said the upcoming assessment and action plan needs to help outline what’s next.

The city’s request for proposal went up June 24 and firms have through July 19 to submit ideas. The call for proposal sets a seven-month timeline to complete the job — though it adds shorter timelines are welcome and firms would have to make their case to extend that.

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Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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