Montana House passes bill funding affordable housing with coal tax dollars

Rep. Dave Fern, D-Whitefish, is carrying House Bill 16 to fund affordable housing. (Shaylee Ragar/UM Legislative News Service)

(UM Legislative News Service) The Montana House of Representatives advanced a bill Wednesday that would use money from the coal severance tax trust fund to pay for low-income and moderate-income housing projects.

House Bill 16, carried by Rep. Dave Fern, D-Whitefish, passed the House on a 71-29 vote and will now move to the Senate. The bill would allow a loan to be taken from the coal trust fund’s investment pool to finance development of rehabilitation housing originally financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In an interview, Fern said when he talked with constituents, he consistently heard about a need for affordable housing. He says the state is making progress.

“I think we’ve come along way in a pretty short time of recognizing it and putting it into policy,” Fern said.

Fern said this bill is similar to one passed in 2011 that provided affordable housing for veterans, and he said it’s been a successful program. He said there has only been one default on one of these loans for veterans in the eight years it’s been available.

Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman, who has been a major advocate for coal country, was originally opposed to the bill. But after working with Fern on some amendments, he voted to pass the legislation.

White said during debate in the House of Representatives Tuesday that he gets frustrated when coal trust money is invested outside the state.

“This bill specifically invests our natural resource money back into the state of Montana,” he said.

Shaylee Ragar is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.