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Missoula legislator’s bill adds duplexes, triplexes to single-family zones

HELENA — Median home prices in Montana increased by 25% from 2014 to 2019, according to data from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, and some counties saw even more growth.

Gallatin County’s median home price jumped by nearly 64% to $424,500 dollars. 

On Tuesday at the Montana Legislature, a coalition of proponents from differing backgrounds lined up to support a bill they say would increase housing supply to meet out-of-control demand, thus reducing prices. 

House Bill 134, sponsored by Rep. Danny Tenenbaum, D-Missoula, would force cities with more than 5,000 residents to allow developers to build duplexes in single-family zones. The bill would require cities with more than 50,000 residents to allow triplexes and quadplexes in the same neighborhoods.

“If we continue down the path that we’re on, we’re effectively evicting Montanans from Montana,” Tenenbaum told the House Local Government Committee.

David Herbst spoke in support of the bill on behalf of the Montana chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group backed by Charles Koch.

“It solves the real problem, which is a lack of property right and a lack of people being able to respond to the market demands that exist,” Herbst said.

Representatives from the Montana Builders Association, the Associated Students of the University of Montana, the Associated Students of Montana State University, and members of the public also spoke in support of the bill.

Opponents disagreed with the proponents, each for their own reasons.

SK Rossi spoke on behalf of the city of Bozeman, and attacked the bill at its very foundation.

“We understand that the proponents of the bill are concerned about affordable housing, but I can’t be clear enough that this is not an affordable housing bill,” Rossi said.

Rossi went on to explain worries that developers would build expensive multi-family units rather than actually dealing with the affordable housing crisis the city is facing.

Other opponents shared concerns about over-stressing existing sewer and water systems, and others called the bill government overreach.

James Bradley 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.