Nicole Girten

(Daily Montanan) Gov. Greg Gianforte called for more access to starter homes, like duplexes, townhomes and condos, as he commended the work of the Housing Task Force he assembled, which recently completed its final recommendations.

“By doing so, a teacher or a police officer can better afford to live where they work,” Gianforte said at a Task Force meeting Wednesday.

The report, the first of two that was posted to the Department of Environmental Quality’s website on Friday, focuses on recommendations surrounding increasing the supply of housing through methods like encouraging more density through lot size requirements, amending zoning restrictions to allow for more multi-family housing where single-unit residences are allowed, and providing incentives to contractors to encourage development.

Gianforte also echoed the recommendation surrounding adjusting zoning regulations to allow for accessory dwelling units, sometimes called “in-law suites.”

“Unfortunately, as we uncovered in this work, zoning regulations have shut them down,” Gianforte said. “It’s time to open them back up, so grandma and grandpa can spend quality time with their kids and grandkids.”

During public comment, disability advocate with the Montana Association of Centers for Independent Living Joel Peden referenced Gianforte’s comment in speaking about creating incentives for accessibility in new construction.

“So as the governor said, grandma and grandpa want to come and visit, and grandma or grandpa need to use a walker or a wheelchair. You don’t have to worry about who’s going to carry grandma four steps to get her to come in so she could spend Christmas or Thanksgiving or Easter with your grandkids,” Peden said.

Peden said “visitability” takes three things: a zero step entrance, 36-inch doors on the first floor and a bathroom that can accommodate a wheelchair.

Task Force member Sen. Ellie Boldman, D-Missoula, said that housing is a crisis and will likely be the No.1 issue during the upcoming legislative session. She said it’s an issue in both rural and urban areas in the state.

She brought up the example of Chico Hot Springs as a popular lodge that’s been affected by workforce shortages because staff can’t find an affordable place to live.

“They reduced the hours of the Taco Bell on Reserve Street in Missoula, so this problem is personal,” she said to laughs in the room.

The task force was formed through Executive Order over the summer, with the goal set by Gianforte, a Republican, to focus in part on regulatory changes the legislature could make to increase housing supply. Now, in Phase Two, the task force will work on actions state agencies and local governments can take. It will have until Dec. 14 to submit its second report.

President and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce and Vice-Chair of the task force Todd O’Hair said ultimately there were no “silver bullets” hearkening back to Gianforte’s comments recognizing that wouldn’t be the case during their July meeting, but said there were some “three- to five-yard gains” towards the issue of affordable housing.

“I thank you for all of your work and innovative ideas that we have in this report. As evidenced in these pages, you’ve proven that you’re committed to helping us work together to find solutions,” Gianforte said.