Bye Bye Babs – the continuing condominimization of Missoula’s rental units

by Jamee Greer

I have to say that I’m not surprised by two things on the front front page of today’s Montana Kaimin –

1.) That the Babs Building on 4th Street SW is possibly turning into condominiums, and

2.) That the Kaimin broke this story.

The staff at The University of Montana’s student paper have really earned their fee increase this year, covering (and breaking stories) on everything from queer rights at UM to student renters displaced by gentrification.

I’m not going to offer much commentary on the possible conversion, other than to say it’s too bad to see yet another affordable housing option disappear in a city with a ridiculous vacancy rate – at least for rentals. First there was the Wilma (with its 25 units), then the Montaigne-slash-“Historic Penwell” (with it’s, I believe, 47 units), and now (maybe) the Babs – coming in at an additional 14 units.

Update: I was mistaken in saying the Montana Kaimin has “earned their fee increase this year” – while I knew that students voted against the fee increase (the only increase to fail the student ballot in ’07) – I was under the impression that the Board of Regents went against student wishes and funded the paper anyway.


  1. chrislatray

    I’ve always had a distaste for condos just for aesthetic reasons, if nothing else, though I know a few people who live in them and love them. However, Carol’s “Carnival of Condos” thing over at MISSOULAPOLIS really underscored how awful they are. This is disappointing.

  2. Well, if they do it right it will be nice to see that lovely old building restored. Right now, it’s an eyesore.

  3. Bob Oaks

    A provision in Seattle’s Municipal Code allows that: “Low-income tenants who are displaced by demolition, change of use, substantial rehabilitation, or removal of use restrictions, and who comply with the requirements of this chapter [SMC 22.210.130], shall be paid a total relocation assistance payment in the amount of Two Thousand Dollars
    ($2,000) to be paid by the City, subject to appropriation of
    sufficient funds for such purpose by the City. The amount of
    relocation assistance shall be adjusted annually by the percentage amount of change in the housing component of the Consumer Price Index, as published by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  4. Jamee Greer

    I can’t decide what’s more of an eyesore. Homeless students or weathered cedar shingles.

  5. Nick D

    Kudos to the Kaimin…

    I didn’t realize the Montaigne’s were being converted. Who’s going to buy all these condos? The Babs never seemed particularly affordable. I always thought of it as a place where party-kids from out-of-state with parents to pay the rent lived. The apartments themselves were always a little overpriced for how poorly the place was maintained.

  6. With all due respect, Jamie (I might as well be rude in every post today), the students aren’t “homeless”. The word, to me, implies a dire situation that can’t be remedied. The building may or may not be bought by someone who will or will not renew their leases. There is no “right” to a lease if it’s legally terminated. Tenants can pick up the newspaper or head down to the UC, look at apartment listings, and start all over again, just as many of us have in the past. That’s life. I’m pretty sure they can fend for themselves.

    Besides, it looks like a couple of the tenants aren’t that concerned. From the Kaimin article:

    However, Dion, and Maria Giarrizzo, a senior studying theater who lives in a different apartment in the building, said they are not too worried about not being able to renew their lease if that is the decision. Giarrizzo is graduating in May and Dion said he liked the place but would just find another apartment in a similar location.

    Way back in the day, I went to a couple parties in the Babs (believe me, I’m surprised too). Nick’s right. The place is a dump.

  7. Nick D is spot-on about the Babs. I lived there with my wife the first year we lived in Missoula aeons ago; it was the only place on the market left when she went apartment-hunting before we moved.

    It was expensive and poorly maintained. They had central heating which they kept on full-blast all year round. Our windows were nailed shut. Nobody stayed more than a year.

    On the other hand, it’s a great building.

    There are two different housing markets, right? Rentals and purchases. Both are pinched. Adding more homes/condos on the lower end of the price range is a good thing. It allows folks to get in at the bottom of the market and make an investment.

    What we need are more apartments in the city for the renters. The university isn’t getting any smaller… But that brings us back to increasing the density of downtown…

  8. They’re smoking crack. I can’t believe they’d go ahead with it in this market. It was the last big thing EVERYWHERE else in the country/world too, so naturally we’re bringing up the rear.

    The worst thing about it are the condo fees, and being legally responsible for defaulting owners, common area, grounds etc. Apparently people are tired of being landlords, so this way they can dump the responsibility for the building onto the condo assn and get out from under it themselves.

  9. I can’t disagree with you there, Carol. All I’m saying is that I’d love to see that building restored and cared for.

  10. Jamee Greer

    When I was evicted from the Wilma, and freaking out about where I was gonna move, it was absolutely the opposite of comforting when folks said they were pleased to see the building would be taken care of or re-done.

    It’s like when Ron Paul supporters say to me, “Ron Paul is pro-gay because he supports states rights.”

    I shudder at both statements.

  11. Were you evicted, or was your lease not renewed?

  12. Jamee Greer

    Both. My lease was not renewed because the new owners were forcing tenants who didn’t purchase condos out.

    1. action by a landlord that compels a tenant to leave the premises (as by rendering the premises unfit for occupancy); no physical expulsion or legal process is involved
    2. the expulsion of someone (such as a tenant) from the possession of land by process of law

  13. Jason B

    I’m on board with Jamee and Carol on this issue. Listen, there are empty condos in this town that were built over a year ago, not to mention newly manufactured homes that are empty…still. I’ve got friends in the construction business that have taken a major hit in this community and elsewhere over the past two years.

    The constant myth in Missoula since I’ve lived here is that “this market isn’t dictated by the national housing market.” What? California, Vegas, Florida, Arizona, and a myriad of other previously “booming” markets have gone down the tank in the last year. This, in combination, with major mortgage lenders going bankrupt or begging for bailouts from our financial institutions.

    I’ve got news for folks: the idea of the “market” is a myth constructed by the Homebuilder’s Association, Realtors, Chambers of Commerce, the greedy seller, and the helpless buyer. My father and I saw Babylon (housing market) crumbling over two years ago with an oversaturated housing market, greedy sellers, and willing (also greedy) buyers who were planning on flipping their house to move up on the totem pole. Look where it has brought us.

    Missoula is not immune to this phenomena. It may not have hit us yet, but soon enough we will feel the ripple effects. Turning the Babs apartments into condos has a twofold negative effect: it is a bad investment and it shuts students out of housing opportunities in rental/housing market that is also inaccessible. Seems like a bad deal to me.

  14. But if you had the money, you could buy a condo in the Wilma, right?

  15. Was the Babs ever “affordable” for college students? I recall it being 20 to 40 percent higher than your average one-bdrm apt…

  16. powfinder13

    Jamee, you had a month to month rental agreement. A lease is an agreement between property owner and renter which defines (among other things) a length of occupancy. With a month to month rental agreement, either party can call it quits at the end of each month. A person is evicted in either case when they fail to live up to the terms of the agreement.
    You were not evicted. Your rental agreement was not renewed by the new owners, as was their right. They did NOT have to give you sixty days notice. They did NOT have to let you be first in line to purchase your apartment as a condo. You effectively agreed to be on perpetual thirty days notice when you signed a month to month rental agreement, and your landlord agreed that you could bail on them with thirty days notice at any time.
    You had a month to month rental agreement in a building that had been for sale for multiple years. Did it never occur to you that your living situation could quickly change?

  17. goof houlihan

    “You had a month to month rental agreement in a building that had been for sale for multiple years.”

    Many people who live in mobile home parks have the same deal, too.

    It’s a risky choice, but can result in cheaper rent in the short term. The problem is seeing it as a long term solution.

    “Evict” to recover property by legal process or by virtue of superior title”. That would be Webster’s New International Dictionary Unabridged first definition.

    I’d say they did evict due to superior title; it wasn’t by legal process. But the whole nature of the bargain was a voluntary one.

  18. Ponder

    I don’t necessarily agree that anyone can ‘just go out and find another place to live.’ With the low vacancy rate that Missoula is currently experiencing the rentals left on the market are often in diperate condition and have very high rent. If you lose your apartment between September and April, you will not have a variety of options on a ‘nice place to live’ until May. Between May and August there is an influx of rentals on the market and many people, change living situations to find better housing.

    Trying to find a decent rental before May or after August is extremely difficult. I feel this is the problem, you used to be able to just find something else, but that is getting more difficult. Therefore, with many rentals changing into condos this situation will become more and more difficult.

  19. Missoula being the envrionmentally friendly “green” town that it is, should embrace missoula and its rehab of its downtown. Weve all lived in our rented apartments and not so classy settings, however, its a stepping stone really. I moved into apartment after apartment due to rent increase and desire to live in a “better” location. Now though I own downtown, walk everywhere and live a life in the city made for the rural dweller. As for people having to move out of the Wilma and Babs, it is a downer because they are both amazing, historic, buildings and have great locations, but there are owners of those buildings and no offense to Babs or former Wilma dwellers but the buildings needed serious attention and alot of TLC. So rather than squabble over the situation, lets be greatful that we can preserve history and give downtown a breath of fresh air.
    And if you can afford to buy now I reccomend it! Though the market is souring in the country its a buyers market, How do you think Donald Trump made all his money? Not from a sellers market soley…buy low and sell high. Hopefully someday for all those who loved living downtown you can buy into the new market and enjoy.

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