Zoning Reform in Billings
"While there is no silver bullet to solving the housing crisis, zoning reform represents low hanging fruit cities can tackle relatively quickly to help address rising housing costs, all without having to spend taxpayer dollars."
“Everyone will benefit from a more welcoming Montana. Building more homes is the only way to ensure that our communities can grow while remaining vibrant, entrepreneurial, and affordable for low and middle-income Montanans.” – Kendall Cotton, Frontier Institute President & CEO
As Montana’s affordable housing crisis has continued to escalate over the last few years, many of the preferred policy solutions employed by our local governments have been focused on more regulatory mandates, more spending and – frankly – more government.
That is where we differ. We focus on solving big problems with more freedom, not more government. Our differing perspective is one reason why we were invited to present our recent Montana Zoning Atlas report findings, along with our proposed solutions for addressing the affordable housing crisis, to the Billings City Council this week.
The Billings Gazette had an excellent article that summarizes our proposals quite well:
“Opening up Billings neighborhoods to allow for more duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes could go a long way toward bringing down the costs of housing in Montana’s largest city and quickly creating more living space.”
While there is no silver bullet to solving the housing crisis, zoning reform represents low hanging fruit cities can tackle relatively quickly to help address rising housing costs, all without having to spend taxpayer dollars.
Frontier Institute is driving forward a growing consensus that strict local zoning regulations are making Montana’s housing crisis worse and must be addressed.
We are grateful to the Billings City Council for the opportunity to speak and hope our differing perspective will spur more conversations about how Montana cities can address the housing crisis by giving landowners more freedom to build homes where they are needed most.
Butte’s Claim to Fame
This month’s Frontier History column from renowned author and Frontier Institute director Lawrence W. Reed details the story of the Butte born actress and singer Martha Raye. Martha delighted audiences and uplifted spirits around the globe during her career. She also believed strongly in the principles of limited government and individual freedom:
“I believe in the Constitution, strength in national defense, limited government, individual freedom, and personal responsibility.”
On Monday, the Montana Legislature’s Revenue Interim Committee discussed the Student Scholarship Organization Credit, through which individuals are given a tax credit when they make a donation to an eligible organization providing student scholarships. These scholarships provide support for students to find a better education, whether through innovative educational programs at their public school or at a private school. The public school tax credit cap reached its limit in a matter of minutes and the private school scholarships reached its cap in 13 days, making the program more popular than anyone had anticipated.
Our Take: Now more than ever parents want to be able to direct their child’s education and donors are lining up to provide scholarships for students in need. The question lawmakers should be asking is this: how many more Montana parents would take advantage of this program if it was expanded?
Expanding Access to Healthcare
A recent paper from the Regulatory Transparency Project of the Federalist Society discussed how governments at all levels temporarily suspended red tape in order to bolster the health system’s response to COVID-19, suggesting many of these laws weren’t needed in the first place.
Our Take: Montana legislators have already addressed several problems the paper cites, such as burdensome Certificate of Need laws, physician dispensing bans and telehealth restrictions. However Montana legislators looking to provide additional red tape relief don’t have to look too far. Expanding pharmacist prescribing, as our neighbor Idaho has done, could expand access to healthcare access in rural Montana. Lawmakers could also address Montana’s chronic physician shortage by adopting reforms to make it easier for medical professionals licensed in other states to obtain a license in Montana, something Arizona and a dozen other states have done.