Monday, December 11, 2023

Legislature cut red tape to increase housing availability

| October 18, 2023 2:00 AM

The Legislature’s major zoning reforms to increase the supply of affordable housing in Montana have made a lot of news, but there was also another significant pillar of our pro-housing work during the session: cutting red tape.

Excessive government regulations have been one of the barriers to meeting demand for housing. Every regulation also increases costs, making what homes do get built more expensive than they otherwise would be. The Legislature’s regulatory reforms touched on every economic class, from families with existing property, to starter homes, to renters, and even the homeless.

I sponsored a bill that allows property owners to assist their family members with obtaining housing. SB 158 allows families to transfer ownership of properties within subdivisions to other family members, as long as such family transfers are allowed in covenants. If a family owns 20 acres and wants to transfer 5 acres to their adult child starting his or her own family, that’s now possible in many more places.

Same goes for families with aging parents, who can now have their parents live out their senior years in a transferred property next door.

The Legislature passed many red tape relief bills targeted at starter homes and affordable middle class homes. HB 246 allows cities to create special zoning districts for tiny houses.

Senate Bills 130, 131, 152, and 170, as well as House Bill 211, all work to streamline bureaucratic approvals for subdivisions and land use. Senate Bills 406 and 285, plus House Bill 364, reduced and limited regulatory costs for building housing.

Thanks to these reforms, it’s now easier and quicker to build middle class housing and starter homes in Montana than it has been in decades. Senate Bill 528 was an important reform for both renters and private property rights. It allows at least one accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to be built, by right, on a lot that has a single-family home on it. ADUs are small units than can dramatically increase the availability of housing within cities, especially housing that is available as long-term rentals. By allowing homeowners to build an ADU on their property to rent out, SB 528 also helps homeowners afford their own residence. Senate Bill 195 is a prime example of getting government out of the way to let people help each other.

It allows churches to temporarily house people without meeting the expensive fire suppression system regulations that are required of permanent residences.

Without this reform, some churches in Montana were being denied the ability to provide a warm bed on a cold winter night to the homeless in their community.

All of these changes to Montana law were sponsored by Republicans, and most enjoyed a lot of bipartisan support from Democrats as well.

These bills, combined with major zoning reforms and a couple pieces of legislation making targeted investments in workforce housing, made the 2023 legislative session the most pro-housing session in state history.

Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, is the President of the Montana Senate.

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