Missoula has become a city that many people can no longer afford to live in – the livability vs affordability factor is at an all-time high. With rising taxes, increases from 2.74 to 7.57 percent since 2006, it seems there is no end in sight. In addition, rapidly increasing home values affect so many populations – the elderly on fixed incomes, renters who absorb higher landlord taxes, and our future generations of children just to name a few. We now have a problem with supply and demand in our housing and it’s quickly coming to a crisis point. Affordable housing and quality of life are the rights of every Missoulian – we need to bring these priorities into the focus and the forefront.
City officials estimate that Missoula will need another 1,300 units of affordable housing to meet the current demand according to Lori Davidson, the Executive Director of the Missoula Housing Authority (Missoula Current 6/2/17). The main goal would be to take a market-based approach and create value while reducing costs. Two of my goals are to reduce, or maintain, property taxes so Missoulians can build a lifestyle based on a predictable budget, and to work with developers and the construction industry in our community to create a user-friendly environment where more affordable housing can actually be built.
By having a more predictable picture of our taxable income, rather than having to raise taxes every year, Missoulians will be able to better plan and budget for their housing savings and needs. Simplifying rather than complicating the development requirements can also help us focus on renovating and improving houses or districts to create quality affordable housing. Unnecessary burdens causing increased permitting fees and blown deadlines are a large component to the high cost of housing in Missoula.
There are likely also archaic requirements that could be reviewed as we try to make a more user-friendly environment. There are far too many stories of business owners, developers and homeowners trying to build or improve their properties and get unknown curveballs thrown at them after they think they are near the end, costing them tens of thousands of dollars which are then passed to the final price of the home thus raising the cost exponentially. We need to help, and certainly not hinder, the productivity of the construction industry as a whole. Additionally, rather than focusing on a prohibitive system, we could be putting our energies into encouraging ways to drive down costs of maintaining and operating buildings through infrastructure planning. Finally, we also need to keep partnering with local banks and businesses to devise creative financing opportunities for the affordable housing units.
Why does Missoula have a “Housing Crisis” and what does it mean?
The Missoulian reported that from 2012 to 2016 Missoula’s median home price rose from $209,700 to $249,900 and then jumped another 6.8 percent bringing last year’s median price to $255,000. The Missoula Organization of Realtor’s reported to the Missoula Current that as of this year it’s already about $270,000.
With the rising prices of homes, that means existing homeowners may find their own home appraisals spiking. This in turn increases their property taxes in addition to the taxes that have risen 2.74 to 7.57 percent since 2006. News hit in early August 2017 that the City would eliminate the proposed 3.4 percent tax increase due to tax revenue earned from construction/developments from the last couple of years via the Montana Department of Revenue. While some homes valued at $250,000 could see a decrease in their taxes of $7.50 many won’t and will actually find their taxes to be higher because valuations depend on home/property size/neighborhood/etc. A resource to check impact on property value can be found at www.cadastral.mt.gov, or if you’ve received your assessment you can call the Missoula County Department of Revenue at 406-239-1400.
The price of rent has also increased with one-bedrooms in multiplexes pricing in at an average of $625 a month. MOR also reports that almost half of renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent which is classified by experts as “cost burdened.”
It’s also worth mentioning that according to the Missoula Organization of Realtors’ annual housing report, with a median-priced home in Missoula it takes an income of $89,916 to purchase a home. Yet the median income for all households has decreased about $4,000 from 2014 and the newest data from 2015 calculates the median income at $42,815. More specifically, experts say college graduates earn just $32,000 a year on average here in Missoula.
The Missoula Current cited in a March 2017 article that 1,654 Missoula families are waiting for subsidized housing. That’s up from 953 in 2007.
Experts say working to create public- private partnerships could aid in developing that sort of environment. Patrick Barkey, the chief economist at the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, told the Missoulian in 2016 “I’m not picking on Missoula or Montana because there are a lot of towns like this,” he explained. “There are clearly communities with a combination of zoning policy and geography that are not real friendly to housing supply. We’ve had very restrained homebuilding here.” The same article also states that according to Barkey in order to combat this problem, developers need to be able to build large subdivisions for a relatively low cost. According to a March 2017 article in the Missoula Current, 4,500 lots have been approved for housing in the urban area, yet construction hasn’t followed for most. Many attribute that to the high costs of the land itself and high costs to develop the land.
It’s also a hot topic for Ward 5 council member, Julie Armstrong. Armstrong told the Missoula Current in a May 2017 article, “I feel strongly that affordable housing is needed in downtown, and I’d like to incentivize developers to do that. Their margins are quite small when they build those affordable units, and I would be looking to staff for a statement that if someone builds low- and median-income housing, that we don’t charge them impact fees for the portion of those units considered affordable.” The City and its newly created Office of Housing and Community Development has not offered any incentives to developers working to include affordable housing options in big projects.
Sam Sill with the MOR told the Missoula Current sums it up, “This lack of affordability disrupts housing options across the income spectrum and has negative effects on the workforce, the economy, and our quality of life.”