More taxes for a housing fund, new incentives to build affordable homes and an update to Bozeman’s rules to lower the cost of construction. Those are some of the priorities a workgroup guiding Bozeman’s housing plan set this week.

The group’s ideas will go into an evolving action plan, which city-paid housing consultants plan to present through public sessions in August.

“That will be a key check-in point to take this to the broader community and say, ‘Are we heading in the right direction,’” said Christine Walker, a consultant with Navigate LLC.

The workgroup of roughly 20 people gathered Tuesday and Wednesday for its fourth meeting so far this summer to narrow down ways to help people in Bozeman find housing.

In 2012, you needed an income of $52,000 to buy a median-priced Bozeman home, according to the city’s 2019 needs assessment. Last year, it took twice that much.

The average rent in town is affordable to those making $62,800 a year.

There are a lot of directions the city could go to do something about its housing crunch. Members of the volunteer workgroup include city and Gallatin County elected officials, advocates, bankers, developers and large employers in Bozeman.

When it came to the cost of building and maintaining housing, a majority in the workgroup said funding should still come out of Bozeman’s general fund. That would mean asking voters to approve more mill levies to grow that pool of money for housing.

“It would take a lot of education in order to get to that point,” Walker said. “But it was really important to bring this issue in general to the voters to have something spread amongst everyone in the community to help address.”

Bozeman’s current fund largely comes from three mill levies, which translates to roughly $300,000 pulled from property taxes each year.

People in the group said if taxes increased, that money would have to go toward lasting projects — like deed-restricted housing that stays affordable past the first owner.

The group also listed more work to collect federal support through programs like low-income tax credits, which can save millions on development but are competitive to get.

Workgroup members went into sessions focused on money, tools and partnerships. That last category looked at what effort — and land — large employers in town could put toward housing.

A map of Bozeman showed land owned by organizations like Montana State University, the Bozeman School District and Bozeman Health. Some of those lots were already full, while others were marked as a potential grounds for housing.

An old school district bus barn was listed as “easy” to eventually convert into some form of housing. Other swaths, like university land, were labeled as “hard” to use.

Tracy Ellig with MSU said the school doesn’t have full control over what happens to its land, adding it has to follow Montana University System policies.

Gallatin County Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said a lot of the county land identified by the group comes down to what the majority of people want, and that dips into local politics.

One of the pieces of land identified for potential growth included the Gallatin County Fairgrounds.

“Would housing be more valuable than a fair? That would have to be the conversation,” MacFarlane said.

Jason Smith with Bozeman Health said the health system can be part of the conversation, but it’s not eager to enter the business of housing management by itself.

“There’s no easy answer; even the easy ones come with complications,” Smith said.

Bozeman’s affordable housing manager Loren Olsen said the workgroup’s impact could go beyond whatever plan the city settles on in October as people continue to talk about how to cut back Bozeman’s housing pains.

There will be two identical public workshops for people to review and weigh in on the draft on Aug. 20, at Bozeman Fire Station No. 3. The first meeting will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the second will be from 5 to 7 p.m.

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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