Bill Proposing Low-Income Housing Loan Program Advances

Whitefish legislator's bill would create a $15 million loan program within the state

By Molly Priddy
Housing in Whitefish. Beacon file photo

A bill that would create a $15 million low-income housing loan program in Montana could be headed for the state House floor for discussion as soon as next week.

House Bill 16, sponsored by Whitefish Democrat Rep. Dave Fern, would direct $15 million of coal tax trust fund money to start a program to provide loans for the development and preservation of homes and apartments to assist low- and moderate-income applicants. The bill passed out of the House Taxation Committee on Feb. 1 with a 13-5 vote.

“I think its chances are pretty good,” Fern said of his bill on Feb. 1. “It’s a loan…so it comes back paid with interest.”

Affordable housing continues to present challenges for Montanans, especially in the Flathead Valley. Whitefish has conducted an affordable housing survey of its workforce and found the housing options to be lacking; the city council recently approved a condo project that promised affordable units as part of its development.

Fern said this bill could create a program to help people find appropriate housing while also not adding to the burden on taxpayers.

The program would pay for itself, Fern said, because of the interest generated on the loans. The bill directs the state Board of Investments to allow the Board of Housing to administer the loans, and that any interest received on repayment can be used to pay for the servicing of a loan and for “reasonable” costs for administering the program. Once those costs are paid, any interest paid on the loan would back to the coal tax trust fund.

Households with an income of 80 percent the median income of the area qualify as low income, and households earning 81 percent to 95 percent of area’s median income qualify as moderate income.

Money from the coal tax trust fund could not be used to pay the expenses of any other program or service administered by the Board of Housing, according to the bill.

Fern said he expected to see the bill up for discussion on the House floor on Tuesday. If it passes the House, it would then go to a Senate committee for consideration, where it must pass muster before it goes to the Senate floor for discussion and votes.

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