Ruling Against Housing Legislation is Misguided

judge in Gallatin County recently blocked two bills aimed at addressing Montana’s housing crisis, siding with a radical anti-housing interest group. The decision to block Senate Bill 323 and Senate Bill 528 is misguided and unfortunate. These bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and were signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Housing affordability is a major issue in Montana. Many Montanans can no longer afford to live in the communities in which they grew up. To protect our Montana way of life, we need to find ways to increase housing options in ways that respect our history and existing communities. These bills are part of that solution to allow more options for property owners and would-be homeowners.

SB 323 would allow people to build duplexes on single-family zoned lots in larger cities, increasing the supply of affordable housing. SB 528 would allow accessory dwelling units, commonly called mother-in-law apartments, to be built in residential areas. These are common sense housing reforms that expand property rights and offer an alternative to urban sprawl. These bills do not force anyone to build anything, but simply allow for market-based solutions for homeowners and homebuyers.

Unfortunately, Judge Mike Salvagni issued a bizarre opinion that limits property rights and sides with wealthy out-of-touch elites. Wealthy out-of-staters are the ones who will benefit from this decision, while hard-working Montanans will continue to struggle to find housing.

We are hopeful that this misguided decision will be overturned and that these and other laws will ultimately be upheld. We are committed to continue to support reforms that will increase housing options and affordability while protecting private property rights.

We are at a crossroads. We can either continue to incentivize McMansions eating up agricultural lands, forever changing the Montana landscape while the super-rich use our state as their playground, or we can encourage responsible development in existing communities that make it possible for our children to live here and for our elderly population to age in place.

Judge Salvagni’s irresponsible decision is an affront to our Montana values and should not be allowed to stand.

The following people signed this column:

Sen. Forrest Mandeville, R-Columbus, the sponsor of one of the litigated bills
Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, the President of the Montana Senate
Rep. Sue Vinton, R-Billings, the House Majority Leader
Sen. Ken Bogner, R-Miles City, the Senate President Pro Tempore
Former Rep. Danny Tenenbaum, a Democrat from Missoula
Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, the sponsor of SB 528
Sen. Jeremy Trebas, R-Great Falls, the sponsor of SB 323
Mark Egge, a member of the Governor’s Housing Task Force from Bozeman
Rep. Katie Zolnikov, R-Billings, who carried several of the litigated bills in the House
Daniel J. Brooks of the Billings Chamber of Commerce
Sen. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, the sponsor of one of the litigated bills
Adam Hertz, a member of the Governor’s Housing Task Force from Missoula
Sen. Chris Friedel, R-Billings, chair of the Senate Local Government Committee
Rep. Larry Brewster, R-Billings, chair of the House Local Government Committee