In 1862, the Homestead Act drew thousands of people to Montana—men and women with dreams of having a place to call their own. More than 150 years later, property ownership in Montana remains a dream for many, and unfortunately, it is a dream out of reach for many native Montanans.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Montana was among the top five states for housing price increases, due in part to a “land grab” by wealthy out-of-staters. In 2021, the average cost of a home rose 24 percent.
“Owning a home is part of the American Dream, but for more than a decade, it’s become harder and harder for Montanans to afford to own or rent a home,” says Governor Greg Gianforte. “Burdensome, restrictive, and unnecessary regulations have left Montana with a longstanding shortage of housing that continues to drive up prices Montanans pay for their home.”
In response to the affordable housing shortage, Governor Gianforte issued an executive order in July 2022 creating the Housing Advisory Council, which seeks to address issues such as supply-chain breakdowns, labor shortages, and underbuilding of “starter homes.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Montana’s population grew 9.6 percent between 2010 and 2020 but added new housing units at a rate of only 6.6 percent.
In creating the Housing Advisory Council, the governor hopes to “increase the supply of affordable, attainable workforce housing.”
It should be noted that affordable housing is far from a one- party issue. As Senator Pat Flowers of Belgrade points out, “This is, without a doubt, the number one issue in Montana.”
While Montana Republicans work to address and rectify housing issues in the state, so do Montana Democrats. In August 2022, U.S. Senator Jon Tester secured $50 million to fund the Montana Homeowners Assistance Fund, which uses money from the American Rescue Plan Act to provide qualified homeowners financial relief for mortgage reinstatement, lien prevention, and utilities.
“Stable housing is critical to the well-being of families across the state, and these resources will ensure that those hit the hardest by the pandemic will be able to rebound with the rest of Montana,” says Senator Tester. “This is great news for folks chasing the American Dream of home ownership, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make that dream more attainable for all Montanans.”
Republican, Democrat, or other, this is a matter that affects us all. As Montanans, we must fight to keep our neighbors here. After all, what is Montana without Montanans?