Fact Checking Claims About The State’s Housing Task Force

Fact Checking Claims About The State’s Housing Task Force

"Gianforte’s Housing Task Force recognizes the reality of housing regulation and has proposed some innovative carrots and sticks to address it."

Kelly Lynch’s October 9th column outlining why the Montana League of Cities and Towns opposes the pro-housing reforms recommended by Gov. Greg Gianforte’s bipartisan Housing Task Force contained numerous inaccuracies, obfuscations and omissions that should be fairly addressed.

First, Lynch claims the Task Force “began with the assumption that local regulations are the primary cause of the housing crisis in Montana.” In reality, Task Force members identified numerous factors contributing to Montana’s housing crisis. The Governor had charged the task force with developing measures the legislature could consider. Population trends and global supply chains are factors of the housing market that are simply outside the reach of a state legislature. On the other hand, addressing the harm done by strict land use regulations fits squarely within the purview of a state legislature. Strict regulations are also widely cited by state and local experts as a significant factor making housing more expensive. To claim the task force “assumed” this is simply inaccurate.

Second, Lynch implies that her own group’s proposed solutions are somehow different and assuredly much better than the solutions proposed by the Housing Task Force. This is a glaring omission given that her own group’s proposals to modernize Montana’s outdated subdivision laws were included in the Task Force’s recommendation 2C. In fact, Housing Task Force incorporated numerous suggestions made by Lynch’s group. The Task Force even facilitated a presentation by Lynch’s group about their ideas. Lynch’s omission of these facts seems disingenuous.

Third, Lynch characterizes the Task Force recommendations as “straight from California”. This is a calculated obfuscation of the historical context surrounding housing regulation in California, clearly intended to dupe Montanans into opposing the Housing Task Force’s proposals.

One hundred years ago, California cities were actually a lot like Montana cities today, defined by their access to the outdoors, clean air and generous elbow room. Scholars say the strict local zoning regulations pioneered in the 20th Century by California cities prohibited denser starter homes and pushed new development outward into surrounding open space and agricultural land. Now California is widely known for urban sprawl and un-affordable housing.

Unfortunately, failed California-style zoning regulations have made their way into Montana cities. Frontier Institute reported earlier this year that over 70% of primary residential areas in Montana’s most in-demand cities either outright prohibit or penalize medium-density starter homes like townhomes and duplexes. This strict zoning is straight out of the 20th Century California playbook.

The solution is to give landowners in Montana cities the freedom to build more homes where they are needed most. Reforming our California-style zoning will allow cities to grow denser instead of sprawling outward, helping to preserve access to the outdoors, maintain the special rural character of the surrounding areas, and keep Montana feeling like Montana. Failure to enact necessary zoning reforms will keep Montana on the path to a California-style housing crisis.

Recognizing the failure of past land use policy, California has also slowly started the process of reform. Bipartisan groups of legislators have advanced steps to streamline permitting and broadly restore landowner’s right to build modest infill housing like duplexes and Accessory Dwelling Units in California cities. Experts say these reforms will go a long way to meeting the demand for new homes in cities.

Gianforte’s Housing Task Force recognizes the reality of housing regulation and has proposed some innovative carrots and sticks to address it. Meanwhile, the Montana League of Cities and Towns wants to play politics.

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