How Zoning Reform Could Ease Montana's Housing Crunch

A new report recommends increased production of 'missing middle housing' in Montana, which, like other Western states, is experiencing rapid growth and an increasingly tight housing market.

March 8, 2022, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Rocky Mountains

Butte, Montana | Jontmh / Shutterstock

"A new study published by a Republican-aligned Montana think tank argues that zoning reform intended to make it easier to build duplex, triplex and fourplex-style homes in urban neighborhoods represents a key strategy for Montana as the state grapples with a housing crunch driven by lagging home construction and surging in-migration." Erich Dietrich reports on the study's findings and the various efforts undertaken by state legislators to revise zoning codes and encourage mid-density development.

Because multifamily structures like duplexes use land and building materials more efficiently than detached single-family homes, their advocates argue that style of development represents a prime opportunity to create relatively affordable housing in increasingly pricey neighborhoods within walking distance of universities and downtown commercial districts.

The report follows a national trend of 'upzoning,' with many cities facing pressure to loosen zoning restrictions as housing costs soar. "Montana’s housing market, already tight in many parts of the state before the COVID-19 pandemic, has ratcheted into a full-blown crisis over the last two years, putting the screws to everyone from low-income renters to would-be homebuyers and business owners who are in many cases seeing their workforce priced out of their communities."

While some advocates for local control oppose statewide zoning reform and density mandates, more policymakers from across the political spectrum are turning to upzoning as one solution to the housing crisis.

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