Larkspur Commons Grand Opening

In this file photo, Connor Lowe leads a tour of his Larkspur Commons apartment  September 20, 2017 during the Larkspur's grand opening. Larkspur Commons is an affordable housing complex which aims to provide homes at below-market prices.

There’s a disconnect between what housing costs and what many Bozeman households can pay. The city is creating a new job title to try and reduce that gap.

Next week, three candidates will interview to become Bozeman’s first affordable housing director — a person charged with pulling pieces together to help spur low-to-middle-income housing.

Bozeman Deputy Mayor Cyndy Andrus said the job comes as the city’s workload increases to balance growth with affordability.

“I’m not sure we can get ahead of it, but we can make a dent so we’re not as far behind as we are today,” Andrus said during a recent interview.

Roughly half of Bozeman renters are spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent — an indicator that people are paying more for their home than what’s considered affordable.

Bozeman’s latest affordable housing plan, which covered 2012 through 2016, aimed for 200 new low-income rentals built within the city during that time.

As of this year, developers have created 184 of those rentals, according to the city’s planning department.

Community Development Director Marty Matsen said the reason the city “was even close” to that goal was due to Larkspur Commons, a 136-unit affordable housing development completed this year.

“That goal was good. And we got lucky with that big development,” Matsen said. “But the city is looking at, are we trying to create a good affordable housing program that mixes affordable housing in projects? Or will we rely on one complex to take that whole burden.”

He said the role of an affordable housing director will help ensure the first is true.

Two of the three applicants are Bozeman locals, Matsen said. The city has $70,000 slotted over the next six months for the position, pulled from a city mill levy. That funding kicks in Jan. 1, and includes money for a salary, benefits, office materials and a bit left over for projects.

“We’re hoping to have someone in that desk by the end of January, just as soon as they can get there,” Matsen said.

He said the need for the new employee stems from the city trying to keep up with Bozeman’s 6-month-old rule that makes new subdivision or townhome developments include homes within a certain price point. At the moment, the rules don’t include rentals.

The new ordinance means someone in city planning has to track housing projects to ensure that portion of affordable units — 10 percent of a project — happens. That means following a project from when a building permit is issued through someone closing on their new home.

As Bozeman leaders consider whether to add condos and rentals in the city’s affordable housing ordinance, the workload for city planners could grow from cumbersome to impossible.

“We need someone to do the tracking and to talk with the advocates and nonprofits about how we’re going to move forward with affordable housing,” Matsen said. “We need a resource on an ongoing level.”

He said the affordable housing director job description was broad so that people with various backgrounds like planning, development and social work would apply.

While the city has a clear idea of what it’s lacking, Matsen said it will be up to the new hire to lay out ways for Bozeman to become a more affordable place to live.

“It’s a pretty blank piece of paper at this point,” he said. “We have the ordinance, but where it goes in the future is kind of up in the air. Whoever is hired could take this job by the reins, build a program and lead the discussion.”

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

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

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