Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Prosperity smothered by money

| October 17, 2023 7:00 AM

The housing crisis in Montana continues. We have unknown hundreds if not thousands of people camping in our streets. Rents and home prices have reached the point of hopelessness. We are reaching a state of emergency.

It has become obvious that we have been deluged in a tidal wave of money that has turned our real estate market into a speculative casino. This is the root cause of the whole problem. Until we confront that, nothing changes. Where did that money come from? How do we fix it so Montana is safe for Montanans?

It’s not just us. This is happening nationwide. There are half a million Americans living in the streets of hundreds of cities, including ours. Home prices and rents are out of control and out of reach of a majority of our people.

Savvy observers of the financial world know where the money came from. The Federal Reserve has flooded the top echelons of the economy during the past 15 years with trillions of dollars concocted from thin air. These fantasy funds have birthed a new financial aristocracy of hedge funders, real estate operators and private equity pirates.

They are turning our neighborhoods into hotel districts owned by investors instead of homes owned and occupied by families. Our citizens have reached their boiling points over property taxes. We are angry and frustrated that out municipal governments are powerless to stop it.

Curiously, our Congressional delegation has been conspicuously missing in action as this crisis has built up.

Most Montanans are not aware that both of our U.S. Senators are on the Senate Banking Committee. Or that the full name of that committee is the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. It turns out that the fundamental Constitutional duty to oversee and correct the Federal Reserve, the financial system, the housing market and the welfare of our cities is the exact job description of our Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester.

Montana has 0.3% of the US population, but two of the 23 seats on that committee. I propose that we Montanans start demanding that our two leaders team up for their home state and convene a meeting of the Senate Banking Committee right here in Montana, for the purpose of finding out facts and proposing solutions.

We need to see our guys thundering tough questions at the Chairman of the Fed. It’s high time our leaders hold hearings examining the acute distortion of our housing markets by hedge funds, private equity firms and short-term rental outfits, and we wouldn’t mind them making the miscreants squirm. We need to know how many landlords are using the recently revealed AI-based price fixing of rents. We need to know why so many homes and apartments sit empty.

We badly need to have Tester and Daines introduce legislation to set this crooked path straight, and then use their considerable power to get it passed.

Our Montana cities, most acutely Bozeman, are being transformed into something we haven’t asked for and that large numbers of us don’t want. Too many Montanans can’t afford a roof over their heads and worse, can’t imagine a future that works. We can’t help but notice that the more private jets arrive in our big sky, the worse it gets.

We need action from the levels of government that can actually fix this mess. Once we get our Congressional leaders to work, let’s see about getting our governor and legislators to do their jobs too. Because money never sleeps, and it is smothering us.

Brady Wiseman lives in Bozeman and served in the Montana Legislature from 2005 through 2010.