Growth Wild

Houses go up in the Flanders Mill subdivision on Wednesday off of Ferguson Avenue.

Starter homes, apartments, condos. Name it, Bozeman needs it.

A draft housing assessment the city released this week estimates Bozeman needs as many as 6,340 new housing options by 2025 to keep pace with people in search of a place to live.

Half of those should be below market rates, according to the document. That means homes priced below $350,000 and rentals for less than $1,000 a month.

Housing consultants with Navigate, LLC, went over the draft with the city’s workgroup on income appropriate housing Tuesday. The workgroup includes leaders in education, development, housing advocacy, health, business and banking.

“Even working folks are dropping off of the ability to find affordable rentals, and so they’re finding themselves in that emergency shelter situation,” said Bozeman City Commissioner Terry Cunningham, a member of the workgroup.

The assessment is supposed to guide a housing action plan that lays out what the city can do to diminish the housing pressure felt in growing towns throughout the nation.

Wendy Sullivan, a housing consultant with Navigate, said Bozeman’s issue boils down to “same story, different place.”

In other words, wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living and the city’s population is rising faster than homes are arriving on the market. Each sector in Bozeman — other than construction — has more jobs than what existed just before the 2008 recession, according to the report.

Sullivan said Bozeman won’t be able to lean on one plan to fix the problem.

“Housing markets are not static, you guys know that,” Sullivan told the workgroup. “This is really a picture of what’s going on now. It will be different in a year.”

Sullivan said the action plan to follow will have to set priorities.

Christine Walker, another consultant with Navigate, said there are issues unique to Bozeman — many of which residents are already familiar with.

She said “commuter communities” like Belgrade have housing prices climbing out of reach for the same families who struggle to find a place to live in Bozeman.

There are also people with higher-than-typical incomes for Bozeman moving to town, which can drive up housing prices.

Walker said she was surprised that owners of second homes — those who fly in for ideal Montana months then leave a house empty the rest of the year — aren’t a major issue in Bozeman compared to other popular mountain towns.

Developers have plans for another 1,000 residential units in Bozeman over the next year. However, Walker said many of those developments are geared toward luxury, not affordability.

Marty Matsen, Bozeman’s director of community development, said how many of those units actually arrive on the market is hard to predict as development plans fall through each year.

The draft comes at an awkward time for Bozeman.

City leaders created a new role last year for an affordable housing manager. The first of its kind in Bozeman, the goal was for that position to oversee the assessment, the action plan and lead Bozeman’s young affordable housing program. But that position has been empty for months after the city’s first hire left.

Bozeman is searching for a replacement. Matsen said the city will most likely schedule interviews with applicants in the next two weeks.

“It’s a struggle. Everyone is having an affordable housing problem and is looking for a solution just like us,” Matsen said. “When we’re looking for the best, can we compete with where they already are?”

He said he hopes the city’s action plan can begin this spring or early summer.

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

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