Sen. Tester takes aim at Montana's housing shortage - TAI News
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Lawmakers of both parties acknowledge that a shortage of affordable housing is a top challenge facing Montana. Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is working to pass bills aimed at helping solve it.

With strong economic growth in recent years, the state’s population has increased faster than the availability of affordable places to live. Home prices have gone up by about 60% since the start of 2020, according to a November 2023 High Country News analysis of Zillow data, while the rate of available rental property dropped from 6.9% in 2017 to 3.2% in 2022.

“I can’t do a town hall in any community in Montana and not have the affordability of housing come up,” Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte told the Atlantic in August 2023. “Housing prices have just been out of control.”

Experts say housing shortages must be addressed through a combination of federal, state, and local policies.

Tester is a co-sponsor of two federal bills to improve availability of affordable housing.

“Look, there’s not a place I go in Montana, whether it’s a very small town or the bigger ones — and our bigger ones are about 100,000, so the small ones are much, much smaller than that — that there aren’t housing challenges,” he said during a March 12 Senate Banking Committee hearing. “And some of it is no housing is available, and others … the housing is there, but it’s dilapidated.” 

The Preservation and Reinvestment Initiative for Community Enhancement (PRICE) Act, introduced in November, would create a manufactured housing community improvement grant program to help create more places for low- and moderate-income people to live. “Our commonsense legislation will help preserve the supply of affordable housing across our state and revitalize units badly in need of repairs, and I’ll keep fighting until it becomes law,” he said in an press release published by the office of bill sponsor Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.

The bipartisan Rural Housing Service Reform Act, also co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Daines, was introduced in September. It would tweak U.S. Department of Agriculture rural housing programs to make it easier for homeowners to get small repair loans, for Native American communities to get mortgage loans, and for rental assistance recipients to continue receiving support after the landlord’s mortgage matures..

“Improving access to affordable housing is one of the most pressing issues facing our country, especially in rural states like Montana,” Tester wrote at the time. “That’s why I’m proud to team up with Republicans and Democrats on this commonsense, bipartisan legislation that will support housing and community development in rural areas.”

On March 8, Tester voted for a bipartisan appropriations package that included community development block grants and protections against out-of-state investors forcing Montanans out of their manufactured housing communities. Daines was one of just 22 senators to vote against the package, calling it “chock full of wasteful spending.”

“We hear every day that rising costs and a shortage of housing in Montana is making it difficult for families to live and work in our state,” Kaia Peterson, executive director of the nonprofit housing access organization Neighborworks Montana, told the Montana Independent in an emailed statement. “We appreciate Senator Tester working in the Senate on solutions that will help restore homes in need of repair and increase the supply of housing across Montana.”

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The Montana Independent is a project of American Independent Media, a 501(c)(4) organization whose mission is to use journalism to educate the public, giving them the information they need about local and federal issues.