One of Bozeman’s biggest priorities going forward is how to handle the housing expansion it needs to have, given the city is not currently serving its inhabitants to the best extent. As students consider moving off campus or finding better housing with the end of the semester, we should hope that Bozeman is making the right decisions for increasing our options while addressing the issues of other citizens.
What differentiates this housing situation from others is the large and growing population of students that are interested in acquiring off-campus housing. Students are exacerbating the issue by grouping together and pooling resources to make housing costs more reasonable. These same costs are unmanageable for single families. Thus, demand for housing that average families can afford and acquire is quite high, with little flexibility for the market to accommodate demand. Bozeman is seemingly surrounded by empty land. This is misleading, however, as the logistics involved in housing construction (material, land, approval, etc.) make each project exceptionally difficult.
Two dangerous paths for the city to go down are affordable housing mandates and housing price controls. Affordable housing mandates would entail builders being essentially forced to add cheaper housing onto new developments, which would reduce the overall profitability of construction projects. Companies will certainly be dissuaded by this, and the best will move to more profitable regions, leaving Bozeman with fewer and less skilled housing developers. Just as bad would be housing price controls, which would entail artificial price controls on some homes to make them affordable. This would reduce profits per house, potentially to unsustainable levels. These costs would either be put on the developer, leading to the same negative results as previously described, or put on the city, diverting valuable resources from elsewhere.
The creation of smaller than usual houses has also been approved, creating a hybrid between the apartments and normal houses. These, and other non-traditional projects, should be encouraged by the city and pursued by students to free up homes for those who most need them. Other solutions could entail Bozeman seeking to reduce the cost for construction companies to operate in the area by minimizing fees and oversight, encouraging the creation of more homes and counting on the occupants of new houses to make up for lost tax earnings. If it ever became affordable for MSU, it could do its civic part by reducing the cost of living on campus; thus, reducing the demand by students for local housing.
Bozeman will increase in population for the next several years, so we can only hope the Bozeman city administration will take the right steps to address this and not let misguided opinions override common sense. In the meantime, each of us will continue to try to knock a few more bucks off our cost of living bill.