From the Field: Montana Housing Coalition Celebrates Legislative Victories

The Montana legislature passed four important pieces of legislation during its 2017 session, a somewhat rare accomplishment in a state where legislators have often minimized the state’s role in affordable housing. The new legislation will clearly define and recognize community land trusts, allow the Montana Department of Corrections to use some of its funding to address the housing needs of individuals leaving prison, allow the Montana Board of Housing broader authority for servicing loans, and alter sanitation regulations such that townhomes can be treated the same as condominiums. These bills were advanced with the support of the Montana Housing Coalition, a group of nonprofit housing providers, developers, contractors, homeless service agencies and advocates that have recently come together to raise the issue of affordable housing statewide. 

Community land trusts are now a more viable model for affordable homeownership due to the successful passage of HB 200. Prior to this new law, all community land trust properties in Montana were regarded as condominiums. HB 200 clearly articulates a legal distinction between land trust homes and other types of homeownership dwellings, and it specifically establishes community land trusts as nonprofit organizations exempt from taxation.

SB 65 provides for affordable housing options as an eligible use of funding by the Montana Department of Corrections. The legislation does not provide an additional funding allocation for this purpose, but allows the department to support housing solutions. Stable housing is often a condition for an individual’s release from prison, and the lack of housing options has been a common barrier. Advocates hope to see new partnerships emerge between the Department of Corrections and community housing organizations as a result of this legislative change.

AB 300 is a measure to allow for the subdivision of parcels of land for townhomes without requiring additional inspections and compliance for each unit to meet sanitation standards, so long as the parcel of land has already been approved and does not require additional water or sewage-line extension. Passage of this law will reduce compliance costs for community development agencies building several housing units on one parcel, which will enhance the financial feasibility of proposed affordable developments.

The recent legislative session left much to still be done. The Montana Housing Coalition will continue to push for an additional 1% resort communities sales tax to generate revenue for workforce housing and infrastructure expansion. The legislature also defeated a bill that would have funded studies of all homelessness and workforce housing in the state. The Montana Housing Coalition will work to raise funds for those studies to have stronger and more persuasive data leading into the 2019 session.

Sheila Rice, executive director of NeighborWorks Great Falls and a member of the Montana Housing Coalition, noted that the 2017 session was the first time the Coalition was able to fund a part-time lobbyist, who is also the sole staff member of the Coalition.  “We grew membership and income and look forward to having a strong voice for housing in the 2019 session,” Ms. Rice said. “We will start with the studies that will give us ammunition to use with candidates far in advance of the session.”

For more information about Montana Housing Coalition’s efforts in the 2017 legislative session, contact Sheila Rice at srice@nwgf.org.