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City of Missoula watching bills related to renters, housing

“We still need the longer-term reform, in my mind." - Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess
State Capitol Helena
Posted at 11:20 AM, Jan 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-24 15:12:44-05

MISSOULA - With its lobbyist on the ground in Helena, the City of Missoula is pushing against a number of bills it feels lean too heavily toward the rights of landlords at the expense of renters, or usurps the city's right of self-governance, staff said Monday night.

Of the bills the city has officially opposed, one appears to be dead in committee — that being House Bill 206, which would require voter turnout of 50% or more for a mill levy to pass.

“Many off-season elections don't generate that kind of turnout,” said Jessica Miller, a city administrator. “They believe that one isn't going to make it out of committee.”

The city also has opposed Senate Bill 142, which would revise how impact fees are collected and spent. Among other things, it would require a local government to refund impact fees under certain circumstances.

The city has created impact fees in areas of high growth, including west of Reserve Street, to recover its cost of building infrastructure. Once a development connects to city services, it must repay the city for its share of the cost.

“It had some unrealistic timelines in that bill,” said Miller. “But they haven't taken a vote on the amendments, which we believe made it more palatable.”

Miller said the city also has its eye on a number of bills directed toward renters and landlords, including House Bill 253, which would have benefited renters by requiring a landlord to refund the cost of a rental application if no rental agreement is reached.

That measure failed in committee, Miller said. But other measures are still alive, including House Bill 282, which the city believes cedes too much power to landlords at the expense of renters.

“There are a couple landlord and renter bills coming forward this week as well,” Miller said. “They're heavily skewed in favor of the landlord. They make it harder for our renters who are already seeing some challenges.”

But the city does support a local bill sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Karlen, D-Missoula. It would provide a one-time property tax refund for owner-occupied properties, or a tax rebate to renters with a household income of less than 130% of the area median income.

Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess planned to speak in favor of the measure this week.

“It's for people who are in their principal residence, and it's not a long-term solution to any of our property tax issues,” Hess said. “But there's a targeted AMI, so the credit is directed at people who need it most.”

Hess and city staff said it doesn't appear that any measures to this point would provide permanent tax relief, or tax reform — the latter something a number of Montana cities have been calling for over the past few years.

“We still need the longer-term reform, in my mind,” Hess said.