Bozeman Tenants United says a ban is needed to increase the city’s housing supply.
By Ryan Strother MONTANA FREE PRESS
A group representing Bozeman tenants this week called for the city to ban short-term Airbnb and Vrbo-style rentals of second homes. Bozeman Tenants United said such a ban would free up an estimated 900 housing units currently being used as vacation rentals, increasing the housing supply for Bozeman’s renters.
At a press conference Monday at Bozeman’s Story Mill Park, Katie Fire Thunder, a group organizer, stood in the bed of a vintage Ford pickup draped with a banner that read, “No more delays, no more displacement. Ban second-home short term rentals.” To a crowd of more than 100, she laid out the changes she said she’s seen since her childhood in Bozeman: taller buildings, smaller parks and increasing displacement, both of homeless people and residents leaving the city because of a lack of affordable housing.
“The thing that really stands out to me is the way I’ve had to watch the people that I love, that make Bozeman a community, have to leave because they can’t afford to live here anymore,” Fire Thunder said.
After Fire Thunder raised several points of contention regarding housing in Bozeman, a chorus of “that ain’t right” reverberated from the audience.
“Bozeman Tenants United is building a multiracial, intergeneration mass membership of tenants fighting to win safe, dignified, affordable housing for all,” Fire Thunder said. “As tenants and the working people who make this city run, we need to call on our elected city commission to act with urgency on the housing crisis. Right now, city blocks of entire homes are being hoarded by out-of-state investors looking to profit off the occasional Airbnb vacationer.”
Currently, Bozeman allows for non-owner occupied homes to be listed as short-term rentals in some, but not all, neighborhoods. Bozeman Tenants United is calling for the city commission to ban second-home short-term rentals in all of Bozeman’s housing districts. The organization does not advocate banning “type one” short-term rentals, defined as an owner-occupied house with a portion of the house — like a guest bedroom — available for short-term lease.
On June 27, the Bozeman City Commission will discuss an ordinance to bring short-term rentals into compliance with current codes that were last revised in 2017. Last summer, the commission directed staff to explore options to bring all of Bozeman’s short-term rentals into compliance with those regulations, including fire codes, and to review zoning requirements. If adopted, the measure would require platforms like Airbnb to include a city permit number on their listings or remove non-permitted listings within five days. The ordinance would not restrict short-term rentals of non-owner occupied second homes.
“This ordinance is backed by research we have done into other similar communities. Many of them have seen success after improving compliance in this way,” city planner Nakeisha Lyon said in a recent press release.
According to the release from the city, planning staff are also in the process of a more in-depth analysis of how Bozeman regulates short-term rentals, which the commission will discuss at a future meeting.
BTU is calling on the commission to further regulate short-term rentals by limiting them to spare rooms in owner-occupied houses. Fire Thunder said the proposed ban on short-term, second-home rentals isn’t an attack on residents who choose to rent extra bedrooms on Airbnb or Vrbo. Rather, she said, it’s a tactic to free up more of the city’s housing and to ensure that Bozeman’s workers can afford to live in Bozeman.
“We have nothing against a local Bozemanite renting out a spare bedroom to make ends meet. But it’s time to stop the second- and third-home hoarding that displaces families,” Fire Thunder said.
Alice Buckley, who represents southwest Bozeman’s House District 63 in the state Legislature, took to Story Mill Park’s truck bed stage Monday to speak in support of revising housing laws and deliver a summary of the recently completed session.
“We did a lot during the legislative session,” Buckley, a Democrat, told the crowd. “We erased all trans and nonbinary and intersex people from code. We banned TikTok, we banned drag, we banned drag shows. We passed a dozen anti-abortion bills. We expelled [Zooey Zephyr] from the House floor. We continued to defund public education. We protected landlords in many different ways. What we did not do is pass a single piece of legislation that benefited renters.”
Buckley said she is committed to taking care of everyone in the community, and the basic unit of care, she said, is a bed and a roof overhead.
“[Hope] looks like continuing to ask the City Commission to ban short-term rentals. It looks like it started there. It does not look like it will end there because there’s so much work to do,” Buckley said.
Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, who campaigned for her seat on improving housing affordability in Missoula, told the crowd that the state’s housing affordability crisis is statewide, and a function of limited supply.
“We need a lot more housing units across our state,” she said. “But in the short term, we’ve got a limited number of supply. And a lot of it’s being eaten up by second-home, short-term rentals.”
Zephyr emphasized the importance of code revisions to improve the availability and affordability of housing throughout Montana.
“We pushed against [additional housing regulations] in the Legislature, but what we see now is it’s up to our city commissioners to turn it in and say, ‘You know what? People need housing. And those people come before any potential profit that could be made from any potential commercialization.’”