“Short on staff. This is the new pandemic,” read a sign in a restaurant in Ennis. “We cannot hire employees,” business owners have repeatedly said at the meeting. ‘A recent listening session at the Shovel & Spoon restaurant in Sheridan. Businessmen from Ennis, Sheridan and Twin Bridges attended. Madison County Democrats and the Montana Democratic Party sponsored the event. Now that our world is opening up because of the COVID pandemic, businesses on Main Street cannot meet demand. “During the pandemic it was panic buying, now it’s panic tourism One said. Normally, ‘panic tourism’ would be good for a company’s bottom line, but instead, it’s overwhelming.
Businesses get applicants, okay, a lot from out of state, but there’s no affordable housing, so they’re turning down the jobs. A company had to buy a property to house its employees, otherwise its family grocery store would go bankrupt.
Another sign I saw said, âHelp wanted, starting at $ 15 / hour, employee benefits. As a lawmaker who sponsored living wages for four legislative sessions, my first reaction to the labor shortage was to pay people more. And in many cases this is true, but not all. Most of the small businesses we spoke with pay almost double or more than double the minimum wage, some offer benefits. People want to work, and they need a place to live, to work.
During the 2021 legislative session, conservative Republicans sponsored a bill prohibiting local governments from requiring affordable housing known as “inclusionary zoning.” You read that right: ban affordable housing!
The legislature passed a good bipartisan tax credit bill allowing developers to build workforce housing. Sadly, our right-wing Governor Greg Gianforte vetoed it, claiming in his veto letter that the state already enjoys federal tax credits and Section 8 funding. He failed to mention the long waiting list for section 8 housing. We need the state government to mobilize for the Montanais. This is the role of government. The governor praised the bad land use bills passed by Republicans that would ease regulations that would lower costs for developers. I don’t want affordable housing that endangers public health and safety. As I write these lines, there is tragic news about a condominium collapse in Florida. Years of structural damage and officially ignored engineering recommendations seem to be the cause. Regulations protect people.
Finally, the governor said affordable housing loans would pose an unforeseen risk to fiscal stability. Listen friends, our state faces a much bigger tax threat in choked small businesses and lack of housing for workers. This, when Republicans’ tax bills gave super-rich corporations and large foreign corporations tax breaks that cut our state’s revenues by $ 100 million in every biennium. One bill gives 80% of the tax cut to Montana’s richest 20%.
I joined a packed house of customers for lunch at the Shovel & Spoon. That was delicious. The owner said she could be open for more hours and expand her business if she could find staff. Montana, we are losing business that could prosper because we do not have housing for the workforce. Let’s build it, so that we can resume our activities. It is only when we do that that Montana will be truly open for business.
Mary ann dunwell