Montana governor touts apprenticeship programs and housing task force recommendations ahead of Bozeman apartment development
by Eric Dietrich MONTANA FREE PRESS
Standing outside a luxury apartment complex under construction in Bozeman on Thursday, Gov. Greg Gianforte touted his efforts to address Montana’s housing affordability problem by promoting new residential developments.
Surrounded by construction industry leaders and trade apprentices dressed in high visibility, the governor’s press conference focused on his administration’s decision to bolster the city’s skilled workforce. state building by allowing companies to train more apprentices. He also highlighted zoning reform measures and other recommendations released by its housing task force earlier this monthsaying that working with lawmakers to implement these ideas will be one of his top priorities next year.
“I think housing affordability and accessibility is probably the biggest issue facing working families in Montana,” Gianforte said. “That’s why we set up the task force.”
The governor reiterated his often repeated statement that a shortage of available housing is at the root of Montana’s housing problems, with rents and home purchase prices climbing out of reach for many working residents. Between 2010 and 2020, US Census data indicates that Montana’s population grew by 10%, but the number of households in the state only increased by 7%.
Gianforte described his administration’s efforts to move the ball on the slot as a collection of short-range football plays. He thinks the state has made some additional gains, he said, “but there’s still a lot of play left and we’re going to hold some more.”
The governor also criticized heavy zoning constraints and “government-imposed mandates” as having restricted housing supply, making it difficult for residents like police officers and teachers to live in the communities where they work.
“High-density housing like this behind us here is part of the solution,” Gianforte said.
Outside the construction site, on a fence facing Bozeman’s 19th Avenue, a sign promoted the development, Project 19th and Graf, as “luxury apartments” coming soon. The resort, he said, would include two spas, two 24-hour fitness centers and a “resort-style pool,” among other “extensive amenities suited to the Bozeman lifestyle.”
Development application documents filed with the Bozeman Planning Department indicate that the first phase of the 26-acre project will include nearly 200 apartments, most in three-story buildings. The developer, Bozeman-based Braxton Developmentdescribes the project as a “Class A” project, a real estate industry term which generally refers to newer, higher-end developments that rent units at relatively high prices for a local market.
A newly developed adjoining apartment complex near 19th and the Graf project, Nexus Point, advertised 993-square-foot two-bedroom apartments start at $2,150 per month on Thursday. A job offer for a campus preschool teacher at Montana State University, a short drive away, advertised an hourly pay rate of $18.50 per hour. At these rates, Nexus Point rent would consume nearly three-quarters of a full-time preschool teacher’s pre-tax salary.
Asked on Thursday how the construction of new luxury apartments would help low-income workers, the governor pointed to the housing task force report, which notes that denser development can make more efficient use of land. and infrastructure such as roads and water pipes.
“Each cost increases the cost of an individual unit,” Gianforte said. “When you put more units in an individual space, the costs go down and it becomes more affordable.”
“It’s really just representative of a denser development project and it was convenient today for us to do the press conference here,” the governor also said.
Prior to the press conference, the governor chatted with apprentice plumbers, electricians and carpenters working for Dick Anderson Construction, Williams Plumbing & Heating, Rocky Mountain Electric and Campbell’s Plumbing & Heating, shaking hands and asking the trainees what attracted them to their work.
“We really want to promote the trades,” he told a group of young plumbers. “We need more houses, and we need more plumbers to build them.”
Construction business leaders said at the press conference that the administration’s change in apprenticeship policy, which changed apprentice ratios allowed by state job site training rules from half an apprentice per journeyman to two per journeyman, it is easier for them to train the workers they need to complete their projects.
“Specifically in Bozeman, we have so much demand for construction and not enough people to do it,” said Austin Walker, senior project manager at Dick Anderson, one of the state’s largest construction companies. .
Gianforte said the state’s registered apprenticeship program has added nearly 900 new apprentices since the start of the year, representing trades such as plumbers, carpenters and linemen.
A headcount report released this month by the state Department of Labor and Industry estimated that Montana’s post-secondary programs are producing too few graduates relative to industry demand in many skilled trades. For example, the IDD economists who wrote the report estimate that the state trains about 109 electricians a year for a field where there are 138 to 346 openings a year.
Electricians in Montana, the IDD report notes, earn a median salary of $60,560 per year. Paying 12 months of rent at the Nexus Point development alone would eat up around 40% of that figure.
This story is published by Montana Free Press as part of the Long Streets Project, which explores Montana’s economy with in-depth reporting. This work is supported in part by a grant from the Greater Montana Foundation, which encourages communication about issues, trends, and values important to Montanans. Discuss MTFP’s Long Streets work with Senior Reporter Eric Dietrich at [email protected].