Frontier Institute Publishes Montana Zoning Atlas Report

Frontier Institute Publishes Montana Zoning Atlas Report

The Frontier Institute's Montana Zoning Atlas demonstrates how strict zoning regulations impact housing costs.

HELENA, Mont. – Today the Frontier Institute released The Montana Zoning Atlas, a new interactive resource that demonstrates how strict local zoning regulations exclude low and middle-income residents and worsen Montana’s housing shortage.

“It’s time for Montana leaders to put an end to exclusionary zoning practices that tell workers, renters and young families who want affordable home options that they aren’t welcome in our cities,” said Kendall Cotton, President and CEO of the Frontier Institute. “Our proposals will give landowners the freedom to build new homes where they are needed most, at no cost to taxpayers.”

“Exclusionary zoning is a major contributor to Montana’s affordable housing crisis,” said Mark Egge, a co-author of the Montana Zoning Atlas and former member of the Bozeman planning board. “Removing regulations that block the construction of affordable homes is a sensible reform that will make housing more abundant and our communities more equitable.”

Exclusionary zoning practices restrict the types of homes allowed in a particular neighborhood, often separating single-family homes from multi-family homes like duplexes and triplexes, which are more affordable by design.

The Montana Zoning Atlas examines the use of Single Family Zoning and Minimum Lot Areas – two common types of exclusionary zoning regulations – within the city limits of Bozeman, Missoula, Kalispell, Whitefish, Billings and Helena.

Key points highlighted by the report include: 

  • Over 70% of primary residential areas in Montana’s most in-demand communities either outright prohibit or penalize affordable multi-family housing development.
  • Among all the cities assessed in the Montana Zoning Atlas report, two-family housing is welcomed without Minimum Lot Area penalties on just 29% of primary residential land, while 3+ housing is welcomed on only 8%.
  • Missoula and Bozeman are overall the least welcoming cities examined in the Montana Zoning Atlas. Both cities either outright prohibit or penalize affordable multi-family housing development in 100% of primary residential areas using a combination of Single-Family Zoning and Minimum Lot Areas.
  • The most welcoming city examined is Helena, which permits more affordable duplexes and townhomes in 100% of primary residential areas and does not impose Minimum Lot Areas.
  • The Montana Zoning Atlas demonstrates the need for communities to reduce or eliminate Exclusionary Single-Family Zoning practices and Minimum Lot Area Requirements.
  • Policymakers should enact Pro-Housing Reforms to make Montana cities a more welcoming place for low and middle-income residents.

Reforms proposed by Frontier Institute include: 

  • Restoring landowners’ right to build two-to-four family housing in city zones which currently only permit single-family homes
  • Eliminating Minimum Lot Area Requirements
  • Prohibiting Minimum Lot Areas greater than 1/8 of an acre (approx. 5500 sq ft) and Minimum Lot Widths greater than 40 ft. in areas already connected to water and sewer.

Click HERE to view the full report. 

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