As Bozeman rents nearly double, activists struggle to stay – Payroll Report

BOZEMAN, MONTANA — It’s mid-afternoon after a heavy snowfall the night before, and NewsGuild activist and reporter Bob Brigham and I are in the parking lot of the motel at the Bozeman Inn.

“You see that?” he says.

He points to recent snowfall under the wheels of a TV station van.

“It’s fresh snow this morning. Do you know what that means? This means that the new little reporter from the local TV station can’t find a place to rent, so he stays here at the hotel.

Located near some of the nation’s best ski areas in Big Sky and less than two hours from Yellowstone Park, Bozeman experienced what Bloomberg called the “Zoom Town Boom.”

Bozeman has had some of the fastest rising rents in the country due to pandemic-era changes that don’t require people to go to a physical office. As people who work remotely move away from high-priced coastal towns to scenic spots like Bozeman; causing the rent to skyrocket.

According to rental site Zumper, the average 2-bedroom apartment in Bozeman went from $1,300 per month in February 2020 to $2,175 in February 2022.

“The Bozeman I grew up in is just fading away,” Brigham says. “We are becoming a playground for the rich.”

But the cost of high rents has also had a negative impact on unionization.

In 2019, Gianna Sherman helped lead a labor campaign at Roost Fried Chicken, an upscale fried chicken that once featured in Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

Eventually, she was fired for organizing unions there. She had hoped to stay in Bozeman and continue to organize restaurant workers, but said she simply could not afford to live there.

“So many of my friends and so many activists that I know had to leave Bozeman just because it’s so expensive,” Sherman says. “It makes our movement unsustainable because so many people just move out because they just can’t afford to live here.”

Many activists say this is a common Bozeman problem. However, Bozeman workers continue to fight back and sometimes win.

In early March, reporters from the Bozeman Chronicle announced they were unionizing, saying they were motivated in large part by the drastic increase in rents.

“Many parts of Bozeman are now unrecognizable to longtime residents, but the Chronicle is an institution that has remained a constant — at least as tinder for your woodstoves,” the workers said in a statement announcing their union campaign. “As journalists and photographers, we are passionate about living and reporting in Bozeman. But it is becoming less and less feasible.

Activists like Brigham, who grew up in Bozeman, hope union fever will spread to Bozeman so they never have to leave.

“I grew up here and love this place more than anything,” says Brigham.

“I would never hate to leave him.”

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