Building a Better Community Since 2007

What's Your Beef? The Housing-Anxiety Blues

Seth Ward  |  Saturday Dec. 1st, 2018

It’s 5:13AM on a Tuesday and I really should be sleeping. Yesterday the Gallatin Association of Realtors reported that Bozeman home prices rose an eye-watering twenty percent in just the last year. Half of homes now sell for over $450,000. A humble condo is likely to set you back $300,000. That twenty percent jump is more than most local families make all year. More than I make, for sure. So here I am, staring at the ceiling feeling sad and defeated.

Understand that it’s not my own dreams I’m mourning. I gave up the idea of owning a home in Bozeman a long time ago, and it was liberating. My dream is more modest: beat the odds just long enough to keep my daughter in the good school district through graduation.

I feel sad because these numbers tell the story of my friends moving away to find real opportunity. I can name at least ten households in my social bubble who have left Bozeman in the past few years. They are mostly couples in their 30s and 40s, engaged professionals with growing families and ties to the community. A few were born and bred, the rest had spent most of their adult lives here. They left Bozeman for nothing more than the chance to unapologetically pay their bills and have a shot at owning a home while working merely one job apiece.

Some of them can even see the mountains from their new homes.

I have a strong hunch the upcoming census will show our community to be hemorrhaging people from this demographic, to our great loss. Because with the people goes whatever social, civic and economic capital they built up during their time here. These trends aren’t usually reflected in the shiny presentation boards and triumphant magazine articles touting Bozeman’s success.

5:22. Okay, if I go to sleep now that’s another fifty-three minutes before the alarm. But what about the defeat? I haven’t quite worn out that anxiety yet.

I feel defeated because we have all known this imbalance between growth and housing was a reality and apparently did nothing. For the last 20-some years, rapid growth has been THE story of Bozeman. And still, there is no plan. Nothing to point at as a success in any case. No one in government or the housing industry or community groups can tell you with a straight face the numbers reported above happened by anyone’s design. And worse, not one of them can look you in the eye today and say it won’t happen again next year. This is a complete failure for all of us.

Perhaps another study will be the thing? Maybe if we focus all our civic energy on stopping or advancing one building project at a time? What about a really nice park?

Maybe nothing. Maybe we really screwed up. Our friends and neighbors will keep moving away (amenities be damned) only to be replaced by the next wave. 

And maybe they’re good people, this next wave. Who’s to say? All we know for sure is they have more disposable income and less local history than whomever they replaced. It’s rightly none of their concern who occupied a rental before them or how much they paid for it. On paper their arrivals cancel out our departures. If that counts an even swap in your book, I humbly submit that it is time for a new perspective.

5:38. Thirty-seven sweet, sweet minutes until the alarm. Deep breaths, let the mind drift. 

5:39. I wonder what it takes to form a Political Action Committee? Like the League of Bozeman Renters? That would be something...damn it. Might as well just wake up and get ready for the first job. I need all the hours I can get. Rent is due next week.   

About the Author(s)

Seth Ward

Seth is a first-generation Montanan, navigating fatherhood, marriage, business and downtown life (on a budget) in the New West. He is a freelance photographer, web designer, and aspiring artist.

View more of Seth Ward's work »