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Bozeman City Commission meeting ends without discussing urban camping ordinance

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Posted at 9:15 AM, Aug 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-10 18:22:43-04

It was a packed house at Bozeman City Hall during the commission meeting Tuesday night, August 8. The commission room was full and past capacity with people gathered in the hallways. Commissioners were scheduled to make a decision about an ordinance limiting urban camping but got bogged down regarding short-term rentals. About 40 people commented on both sides of the controversial topic. City Manager Jeff Mihelich explains in simpler terms why the subject of short-term rentals was discussed thoroughly.

“The premise is that we have so many short-term rentals in the city of Bozeman that that is taking away from the rental housing market,” Mihelich said. “So the premise has always been if there was a way for us to put more limits on short-term rentals, so there's fewer short-term rentals, then hopefully that will create more longer-term rentals for people in the city of Bozeman that need housing.”

City Commission discussed the three different kinds of short-term rentals in Bozeman. Since this topic was on the agenda as a work session, no decisions have been made and Mihelich describes what the next steps are in this process.

The next steps are we are going to draft an ordinance for the City Commission to consider which will further restrict short-term rentals,” Mihelich said. “It will likely include a complete ban on type three short-term rentals that include extra enforcement and will include also increasing fees. And again, the hope there is that by doing all those tools, there will be fewer short-term rentals in inappropriate locations and that could lead to more affordable rental units.”

Although the urban camping ordinance proposed by the city was not discussed during Tuesday’s meeting due to lack of time, local nonprofits are still thinking about the potential effects of the ordinance.

HRDC’s Housing Director Brian Guyer is one of the many people who attended the City Commission meeting Tuesday night in hopes of discussing the proposed ordinance that would establish restrictions on time, place, and manner in which people can shelter in a public right-of-way, forcing people to move their vehicles every five days to a different street.

“I understand that the issue of urban camping is complicated, and I don't want to get in a situation where we are trying to arrest our way out of homelessness,” Guyer said. “The city needs a tool to enforce parking regulations to enforce some rules around urban camping. So, I appreciate the empathy and the humanity that they’ve sort of introduced with this ordinance. I support it. I think that you know, it helps the city to maintain, you know, hygiene standards.”

Executive Director of Family Promise Christel Chvilicek says she has mixed feelings about the ordinance. 

“Regardless, there's not enough affordable housing here in Gallatin County,” Chvilicek said. “I think we have mixed feelings about it because some families or some individuals are choosing to live and then that's their home. And then there's others that are truly like, there's nothing else for me, I need something, I need help, and this is all I have.”

Guyer and Chvilicek both agree on one potential change to the ordinance.

“One of the things would be maybe lengthening the amount of time that individuals can stay in one area,” Chvilicek said. “There's conversation around maybe 14 days versus a five-day stay.”

Guyer said, “We do think 14 days at the very minimum, is a much more reasonable expectation. That's 26 moves throughout the year if they're waiting for a housing choice voucher.

Guyer says there’s a one-year wait for an HRDC Housing Choice Voucher. City Manager Jeff Mihelich says the City Commission is aiming to discuss and vote on this ordinance hopefully in October.