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Jason Ellsworth: Common sense housing reforms

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Jason Ellsworth

Many areas of Montana, including in the Bitterroot Valley, are facing a crisis of housing availability and affordability. It’s one of the main issues at the Legislature this session, and one of my bills is part of the reforms we’re working on. Senate Bill 158 would allow families to transfer ownership of properties located within subdivisions to other family members.

This “family transfer” proposal is a pro-housing and pro-family piece of legislation. It’s about giving Montanans more freedom to help their family members find a place to live. The bill can help parents keep their kids in the state and help adult children care for elderly parents. It’s not a silver bullet that will solve Montana’s housing crisis by itself, but it’s a common sense step we can take to help many Montana families.

Too often in Montana we see younger generations leave for other states with more opportunities and more affordable housing. As the law currently stands, you cannot transfer ownership of property to family members if that property is in a subdivision. By changing that law, we are hopeful that more parents will be able to help their children own property and have a place to live.

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Similarly, this bill makes it possible for adult children to transfer land to elderly parents. This is critical especially as senior care is becoming more and more scarce across the state. SB 158 creates an option for children to keep their parents close and to be able to care for them as they age.

Two more bills aimed at improving housing in Montana have also recently been heard. Senate Bill 130 allows counties to consolidate planning boards, zoning commissions, and boards of adjustment into a single land use board. This streamlining of the process should reduce the time it takes to finish a housing project by reducing bureaucratic complexity.

Senate Bill 131 creates a deadline for local governments to approve or deny exempt subdivisions. Again, this bill would streamline the process, giving builders and would-be homeowners more clarity faster.

These senate bills are common sense improvements to the housing problems we are facing in Montana. There’s lots more work on housing still to do this legislative session, but these simple reforms are good initial steps in the right direction. Making housing more affordable and attainable in Montana will require many such steps aimed at addressing the different drivers of the housing problems we’re facing.

Jason Ellsworth represents Senate District 43 in the Bitterroot Valley and is the president of the Montana Senate.

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