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Bozeman housing groups say affordable rental units in short supply

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: Jan 09 2014 06:54:47 PM MST
Updated On: Jan 09 2014 09:52:59 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Representatives with Bozeman's Human Resource Development Council say Gallatin and Park Counties have a housing problem. This Monday, the Bozeman City Commission will hear from the Community Affordable Housing Advisory Board on progress, shortcomings and recommendations.

We read through the city commission memo to find out some of the Board's concerns. They say the areas that need improvement are those where the city and its partners rely on outside funding.

We found that across most programs funding is down. Restrictions are tighter and there is a lot of competition.

According to the memo, funding was reduced for down-payment assistance and Section 8 housing choice rental vouchers have been frozen.

Plus, the memo indicates the development of affordable rental housing using the Low Income Tax Credit is behind target.

When we asked folks with CAHAB and Bozeman's Human Resource Development what they feel is one of the biggest issues surrounding affordable housing, they tell us it's the lack of affordable rental units.

We spoke to a representative with CAHAB who tells us one of the biggest issues with affordable housing in Bozeman has to do with simple supply and demand. He says there are virtually no excess rentals available, which jacks up cost. In order to get those prices down, he tells you must add supply.

"Our ability to assist is dependent on the availability of affordable units and that's been a big challenge recently," says HRDC Housing Department Director Sara Savage.

Savage tells us a lot of the housing programs are working with folks to secure affordable rental units in the community. Affordable means they're paying 30 percent of their income. But Savage says a lot of families are paying more than 50 percent of their income, or they're not able to find housing at all.

"A mom who just wants to have a bedroom for each of her kids, to not be able to afford that with a full-time job in our community is really hard to watch. Or to have someone who's homeless and has income, had a job, is ready to get into housing and have that take weeks or months for them to find something they can afford," Savage says.

Savage explains a couple years ago there were lots of affordable options. Now there are 1,800 families waiting for long-term affordable housing in Gallatin and Park Counties.

"Today, our housing counselors really struggle and it can take them weeks or months to find a unit that meets that affordability for a family," says Savage.

She tells us another struggle is finding units that meet what the federal government defines as affordable.

For a one bedroom, HUD requires a unit cost less than $600, including utilities. For a two bedroom, it must cost less than $800, including utilities.

Savage says, in some cases, the best advice they can give to their clients struggling to find affordable housing is to keep looking.

"Make it part of your full-time job to look for those units because when something that's affordable does become available, it can be gone within 48 hours or less," explains Savage.

Savage says she would like to see a larger stock of available affordable housing, especially targeted towards low to moderate income households who are looking for a place to rent in the 30 to 40 percent of their income range.

Bozeman HRDC assists 700 households a year find housing. Every month they help 12 families secure short-term housing and they have 370 folks they assist in their long-term affordable housing program.