HELENA (January 12, 2023) – Today the Frontier Institute released The Montana Zoning Atlas 2.0, an expanded interactive resource that demonstrates how strict local zoning regulations exclude low and middle-income residents and worsen Montana’s housing shortage. The report also outlines a 2023 Pro-Housing Platform with policy solutions that local and state leaders can adopt. 

“After years of talk about housing affordability, it’s time for action,” said Kendall Cotton, President and CEO of the Frontier Institute. “Local and state leaders need to step up with pro-housing reforms to give Montana landowners more freedom to build the affordable types of homes our communities desperately need.” 

The Montana Zoning Atlas 2.0 report supports a growing bi-partisan movement in Montana to address strict local zoning regulations with pro-housing reforms:

The Montana Zoning Atlas 2.0 is one of seventeen state atlases being built by over three dozen universities, nonprofits, and public agencies as part of the National Zoning Atlas project, which aims to depict the nation’s 30,000 zoning codes in a clear, publicly accessible map. 

Key points highlighted by the report include: 

  • 50% of zoned land in thirteen of Montana’s most in-demand counties either outright prohibit or penalize affordable multifamily starter homes like duplexes.
  • Among the major cities assessed in the Montana Zoning Atlas report, two-family housing is on average welcomed by-right on just 41% of zoned land, while 3+ family housing is on average welcomed on only 29%.
  • The Montana Zoning Atlas demonstrates the need for communities to eliminate harmful California-Style Zoning practices and Excessive Minimum Lot Areas. 
  • Policymakers should enact Pro-Housing Reforms to make Montana cities a more welcoming place for low and middle-income residents.

“Like convoluted zoning codes all over the country, zoning in Montana stifles the production of housing and makes the state’s affordability crisis worse,” said Professor Sara Bronin of Cornell University, founder of the National Zoning Atlas project. “The Montana Zoning Atlas will help Montana leaders understand where pro-housing zoning reforms are needed and why they are necessary.”

Montana housing leaders echoed the Montana Zoning Atlas 2.0 findings: 

“We have a lot of zoning regulations across Montana, but what is consistent is that they are zoning out the middle market,” said Cory Shaw, Executive Director for the Montana Building Industry Association. “If we want to once again see the starter homes that previous generations had then we need to address the zoning barriers standing in the way.”

“If we’re going to protect Montana’s environment, we’re going to have to grow inward in these urban areas rather than sprawling out,” said former lawmaker and developer Adam Hertz. “Without reforms to zoning, Montana will just become an expensive gated community that only the wealthy can live in.”

“Overly strict zoning impedes the creation of housing and skews what does get built toward the high-end market, resulting in a scarcity of housing that’s within reach of middle-income Montanans,” said affordable housing advocate and data scientist, Mark Egge. “Opportunity in Montana communities is being priced out by zoning.”

“If you are on the left like me, you should support zoning reform because it’s the single greatest thing that we have direct control over to help solve climate change,” said President and Co-founder of Shelter WF, Nathan Dugan. “Zoning reform is something we should all unite around, regardless of your politics.”

“Everybody is waking up to how much it is holding Montana back, how many opportunities aren’t available to us because of our restrictive zoning,” said Missoula developer Chris Chitty. “A healthy, resilient community is one that has a place for everyone, and we can make that happen by uniting around zoning reforms.”

Zoning was pioneered in cities like Los Angeles during the 20th Century. California-Style Zoning practices reserve vast portions of Montana cities for expensive single family homes on large lots, prohibiting middle density starter homes like accessory dwelling units, duplexes, townhomes and triplexes that are more affordable by design.

Frontier Institute’s 2023 Pro-Housing Platform proposes several reforms to advance recommendations made by the Montana Housing Task Force, including: 

  • Broadly restore landowners’ right to build affordable middle density starter homes like ADU’s, duplexes, townhomes and triplexes in cities. 
  • Eliminate excessive minimum lot areas requirements greater than 2,500 sq ft. in cities
  • Consider well designed incentive programs which would tie state housing funding to successful local zoning reforms. 
  • Permit manufactured housing where other residential uses are also permitted.
  • Place limitations on other harmful aspects of zoning, such as residential parking mandates and height restrictions.

Click HERE to view the full report. 

For bookings or interviews, contact or 406-414-7146

Founded in 2020, Frontier Institute is a Helena, MT think tank dedicated to breaking down government barriers so all Montanans can thrive.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!