Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Bozeman mayor talks housing in Congressional hearing

by Nora Shelly

Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus told U.S. senators on Tuesday that the city needs help from the federal government to address its housing crisis.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester introduced Andrus in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs about housing issues in Bozeman – which has seen home prices and rental costs skyrocket, particularly in the last year. Other officials from Akron, Ohio, Tempe, Arizona, and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, also testified.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said at the beginning of the hearing that local issues impacting cities and counties are national problems.

“When a young family decides whether to relocate for a new job, they think about how they’ll get to work, how long will the commute be, whether their whole paycheck will get eaten up by rent or the mortgage,” Brown said. “These are issues that intersect, and while they may look different in Bozeman and Akron and Tempe or Lancaster, we know they are national problems.”

During her testimony, Andrus urged senators to provide long-term investment in housing. She said the housing crisis in Bozeman is not limited to low or middle-income people, but also impacts people on higher ends of the wage scale.

Andrus suggested the federal government make Community Development Block Grants and other grants more flexible and accessible.

Cities are in need of resources to simplify their development review process and development codes, Andrus said, and could benefit from a program that would offset infrastructure costs for denser building.

Bozeman is undergoing an audit of its development codes in an effort to create and preserve affordable housing units.

“The federal government needs to recognize that housing is a basic building block of our community,” Andrus said. “I do not expect the federal government to build new housing from the ground up, but I do have an expectation that you will do something by providing tools to local governments to fill the gaps that the private sector is not currently meeting.”

Sens. Tester, D-Montana, and Steve Daines, R-Montana, both asked Andrus questions during the hearing.

Daines, who noted during his question that Bozeman’s growth is at a level previously unseen, asked Andrus how the change to the population standards for a metropolitan area would impact the city.

The federal Office of Management and Budget released a proposal earlier this year to increase the standard for a metropolitan area from 50,000 in population to 100,000.

Bozeman is expected to crack the 50,000 mark with the results of the 2020 Census and the proposed change the metropolitan population benchmark has raised alarm in the city over what impacts remaining a micropolitan would have on federal funding.

In response to a question from Tester, Andrus said Bozeman would benefit from more access to federal funding programs, some of which are doled out based on a city’s metropolitan designation.

“We … have fallen between the cracks,” Andrus said. “We’re not a large city. We’re not considered rural and so access to those dollars are difficult for us.”