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Zinke touts legislation to help first responders, teachers obtain home loans

Helper ACT .jpg
Posted at 6:01 PM, Jun 03, 2024

BOZEMAN — As housing prices continue to hit record highs here across the valley and across western Montana, buying a home is becoming more unattainable for people who live and work here.

U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke has co-sponsored legislation that would make it easier for first responders to buy a home.

“With anybody who's relocating to Bozeman right now, you know, finding housing is a challenge,” says Bozeman Fire Chief Josh Waldo.

Waldo has seen first-hand how far some of his firefighters commute to work.

“People figure in that commute. If I have to drive, you know, an hour one way or 45 minutes one way is coming in to do a three-to-four-hour coverage,” says Waldo.

Waldo says some of his firefighters live in Belgrade, Three Forks, and even as far as Townsend. Waldo says this is hard especially with the long work hours.

“You know, really something that they want to do. So, it does create a challenge when people figure in or, you know, calculate in that commute, for just a small window of coverage here in the city,” says Waldo.

Zinke co-sponsored a bipartisan piece of legislation called Homes for Every Local Protector, Educator and Responder, also known as the HELPER Act.

“Our first responders, our teachers, our firemen—those service members are having a difficult time at that salary to enter the market," Zinke told MTN News.

Under the proposed legislation, first responders and teachers would be eligible for a first-time home loan with no down payment.

“Now, is it the great panacea? No, but it helps, and when interest rates are high and people are being locked out of housing and are destined to be renters for life, that gnaws away at the American dream,” says Zinke.

According to the Gallatin Association of Realtors, the median price of a house in Bozeman city limits was $765,000 in April.

“At a teacher's wage or an EMT's wage, you know, that's a bridge too far,” says Zinke.

Chief Waldo says they try to help firefighters find places to live. But he says their goal is living and working together.

“We want our first responders to live where they work and they serve the community,” says Waldo,

The HELPER Act still needs to move through committees before it's introduced on the House floor.