It’s Easier to Get Out There and Protest Something Than to Work Through the Solution

by jhwygirl

Monday night’s pragmatic city council meeting brought us not only the vote which canned any discussion towards putting a $9 million tax levy on the next ballot – which, after I heard the discussion, I found myself in agreement – but also the unveiling of a mini-documentary on affordable housing by Mayor John Engen.

I find myself writing the rest of this from memory as I didn’t TiVo the meeting like I sometimes do. Sure as hell wish I did now. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. So if I say anything inaccurate below, blame it on old age. Or the alcohol.

Produced by MCAT, along with Planning Director Rogar Millar and OPG’s Mike Barton, it profiled the face of affordable housing – which is your neighbors and fireman and policemen and clerks and nurses and engineers and working professionals and service people. It oulined the problems that many businesses face in recruiting employees. It interviewed people like developer Collin Bangs, WGM head and every subdivision developer’s favorite Nick Kaufman, and a young couple that had to buy in Stevensville to find something affordable.

That couple now drives Hwy 93 daily to work here in Missoula, along with, literally, 1000’s of other Ravalli County residents. Can’t blame that on Ravalli – hell, they’re supporting our workforce, our economy!

Ravalli has been our affordable housing – but that is changing quickly, isn’t it?

While it didn’t include a lot of statistics or facts and figures (a small failure, IMO) – it is certain to be brought out in future discussion. It did include an interview with a mortgage lender who told how a household making $54,000/year could only afford a home that costs no more than $156,000. That $54,000 figure happens to be the median income of a family of 4.

There aren’t a lot of homes on the market for $156,000. Decent quality homes that don’t need tons of work and new water heaters and furnaces and foundation work, etc. The market simply doesn’t address the enormous need that is there.

First time home buyers, depending on their loan, have to purchase a home that passes that first time homebuyers inspection. Most don’t.

The mini-documentary also articulated the economic impact that the lack of affordable housing has on the valley – with one interviewee asking “Is Missoula missing out on economic growth?”

The production was revealing even to Dick Haines, who said it gave him something to think about.

Haines, incidentally, announced his candidacy for Mayor on Monday night also. More on that, eventually….but remember you heard that here first, about 2 weeks ago.

Engen announced the first community meeting of the housing discussion for March 13th – again, if my memory is off, hopefully he or Ed or any one of our other wonderful councilpeople will kick in here.

We’ve written pretty damned frequently on affordable housing here at 4and20blackbirds, and if you want to review some of our thoughts, please hit the “affordable housing” tag over to the left, under Categories.

With all that being said, when people start dissing on the discussion (which has yet to be had!) and start pointing to the recession as a solution to an essential workforce affordable housing issue that has hovered over this valley for at least 10 years now – ask them why they find it so hard to work through the discussion – to wait and hear the community speak. Ask them why they are embracing a recession as a solution. And then ask them to participate.

That’s about all my brain cells stored that can be at least semi-accurately reported. John Engen and the rest of the community that worked on that production deserve a huge big THANKS for starting that discussion.

Personally, I can’t thank them enough.

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  1. goof houlihan

    I’m sure there are condos or townhomes in the area for the target prices. And fixer uppers are the usual entry level home, otherwise known as “affordable”.

    Firemen are well paid, and usually have a second trade. I’d guess that the Missoula firemen all have nice homes.

    And no one, not any union group you mention, is entitled to a brand new home for 156k.

    Certainly Bozeman’s affordable housing policies don’t guarrantee anything of the sort.

  2. Have you adopted inclusionary housing there? I hadn’t heard…I knew the discussion was being had, at least a while back

    You know this, I have to believe that, but putting more than 30% of your income takes away from other things – like upgrades, bills, and activities that might go into the economy….so while many can and do put 50% and more of their income into housing, it is a slow drag on the economy.

    I say we are feeling those effects, but truly we need a housing needs assessment done. A strong factual analysis.

    Missoula is having trouble recruiting police. Police are now allowed to drive from up to 30 minutes away. That can be as far away as Alberton – or nearly to Drummond! I’d prefer my police live in town.

    Same with teachers. And fireman.

    You may remember my post on fireman a while back? This one?

    No one deserves a house as a right…but hardworking people who contribute to the valley should be valued by said community. And I’m darn tired of seeing subsidies, frankly, for those at 80% and less of median….not that I begrudge them a home, but what about the other hard-working individuals?

    I don’t see this as a need only for union employed people – I used police and fire and teachers only to illustrate that these are the types of people that most would want to live right here – and there are plenty of good reasons for that to occur…and you know that goof – as you have said the same – that everyone deserves affordable housing if anything regulatory or even remotely regulatory is going to occur.

    I’m not trying to put words in your mouth – and I trust you will correct me if I misrepresented what you said.

    Affordable doesn’t have to be new – but it can’t be a dump. And there’s got to be a decent amount of it on the market to meet the needs. Buying a condo and then factoring in the monthly payments of HOA fees into the mortgage, you’d be hard-pressed to find a 2 or 3 bedroom home in that range.

    Keep in mind, the idea is to support a variety of households, including the healthy economic boosting family with children. Really need to have an extra bedroom or 2 for that.

  3. Any efforts to get this enlightening video on youtube (or similar)?

  4. That’s one thought I had – having it broken down, or something…I think it was about 20 minutes long.

  5. goof houlihan

    yes by a three two vote, Bozeman did last year. The two most liberal commissioners voted against the plan. Too much recognition of the market, and not punitive enough on the “developers”. At one point, the current Mayor, one who voted against it, insisted that the affordable houses be built the same as the market houses. “If they’ve got Corian countertops in the market houses, we should get Corian countertops in the affordable houses too”.

    You might figure I’m more than just a little sarcastic on the whole “corian countertops for everyone” ethic.

    But Bozeman requires affordable units to be built, more or less the same way it requires curbs, sidewalks and gutters. The whole “lottery” thing sucks, luck instead of hard work is hardly my ethic, either.

    The units will be small. Very small. You can’t build market rate size houses. even with heavily discounted lots…and sell them for cheap..and it’s builders, not developers you’ve got to attract into supplying this market.

    Bottom line, the solution is cheap lots from the developers. You can’t squeeze the builders, they HAVE to make a profit they won’t build. And if the profit margin is too small, well, then the builder qualifies for the affordable housing.

    I’m having this conversation with Missoulapolis too. Turns out the definition of affordable housing is “Entry level Victorians near the university for everyone”.

    That’s really the expectation out there, jh.

  6. goof houlihan

    Tiny houses on tiny lots. Condos and townhomes. That’s what an affordable housing policy will get you. Here’s the kicker, too.

    It might just be those police, and teachers, et al, (and yes, it’s twice now I’ve called you out for only referring to government union jobs–what, bartenders don’t get affordable houses?) will drive that thirty minutes to get a house that is bigger, on a lot that allows a father to have a catch with his kid in the backyard. They might pick those instead of the closer in, “tiny houses on tiny lots”.

    That’s the market. Even affordable housing policy builders will have to play in it.

  7. Re: “Entry level Victorians…” – for her, maybe – but I’ve not heard anyone expecting a castle or anything. I certainly don’t expect 1500 square foot starter homes.

    Expecting corian countertops is a bit ridiculous – and I assure that if that type of expectations get tossed around here I’ll be the first to stand up and say it’s ridiculous.

    With that being said, Jackson Hole has done a lot of modular construction down there – that stuff can be designed…a good architect can put together homes (1, 2, 3 bedroom) using a set group of modular pieces, reducing costs. It works well when you are building 10 or 15 or whatever amount of homes at a time…Modular builders will custom build when they have orders and specs like that.

    What income levels is Bozeman serving?

  8. Engen’s film did express that there will always be those who’d rather drive from 30 minutes away than to live in town, irregardless of what what might be affordable housing in town…what is typical of communities that do affordable housing.

    We’re obviously no where near anything like what it would look like.

    Land is a big cost (typically 1/3 of the ‘full package’), so yes, obviously small lots, multi family – duplexes, etc.

    And it doesn’t all have to be ownership. I’m fine with rentals.

    Affordable, for me, bottom line, is housing that costs no more than 1/3 of income. Cost includes stuff like electricity, water, sewer, garbage, gas, taxes, HOA, insurance – and not stuff like cable and telephone.

    Not everyone wants to buy, not everyone wants to rent.

    The goal is economic stability. Housing choices do that.

  9. goof houlihan

    But you are right. Here’s the point I’d make with max bucks at Missoulapolis. What about the really high price spreads, in Idaho, or Jackson, or Alpine Village, etc. Do you want people making 100,000 or less living there? If yes, then that lesson extends to a lesser amount of salary in a town where medians aren’t 500k.

    Bozeman gave up 10% of their parkland dedication for the lots. Sq ft for sq ft. What is Missoula willing to give up in exactions and design standards.? We also deferred, on the affordable units, the impact fees for twenty years…essentially that waives them considering the tvom.

    Even with all that, it’s a crapshoot whether anyone will buy an affordable unit. Teachers and police might just still drive from Manhattan or Belgrade. They get a lot more for their money there.

  10. The way JH’s regs are written, housing gets put where the developer is building – but they can build off-site too. The main idea, of course, is “inclusionary” – but reality has it near services and public transportation. At least that’s the case that has been made to keep it out of neighborhood’s like Dick Cheney’s.

    Bottom line, it is much more efficient to have the developer build than to collect fee-in-lieu. I shoulda taken pictures of developer built affordable housing when I was last year. Pretty darn nice.

    you are right – gotta collect impact fees on everyone – including affordable housing. Deferring payment is interesting. Deferred to the homeowner? hmmm – don’t know about that. Don’t know, frankly, about deferring them in that the purpose is to address the impact. Seems to weaken the logic and legal standing for impact fees a little bit.

    Better not raise those with deferrals around.

    You don’t have any units yet? I don’t know that it is a crapshoot – it’s not like it’s all going to happen faster than the knapweed that’s sprouting on the few empty lots you have out there by the interchange….people will always want to live in Bozeman…but {{sigh}},that’s the problem, isn’t it?

  11. goof houlihan

    Pre approved plans for the affordable units is another good idea.

  12. oh yeah – you don’t take it on a promise…but you don’t want to be too strict to impede their market stuff either.

  13. goof houlihan

    And it’s a large salary number 43,000–60,000. However, the Bozeman plan can drop down into the mid thirties with enough work.

    Ironically, people making less who work hard and sacrifice and pay taxes and rent or don’t qualify will subsidize those high salary numbers with higher impact fees and smaller parks.

    Many people in Bozeman made that very point.

  14. goof houlihan

    no fees in lieu that make sense (the whole cost of a unit), and 1.5 the units for off site.

    Yeah, the impact fees, though, are a big chunk of the margin.

  15. goof houlihan

    (Boise) February 21, 2008–The Idaho Association of REALTORS® (IAR) and the Mountain Central Board of REALTORS® (MCBR) applauded the court decision made Tuesday which struck down an ordinance enacted by the city of McCall mandating private builders and developers to build and deed restrict properties for “workforce housing” In 2007 the MCBR filed a lawsuit against the city of McCall seeking a declaratory ruling that McCall’s ordinance was an unconstitutional taking of private property rights, an illegal taxing scheme and that the city exceeded its jurisdiction and authority in passing the ordinances.
    “We took every step we could to get the jurisdictions in Valley County not to adopt the ordinances,” said Ray Moore, President of the Mountain Central Board of REALTORS®. “We even financed a print and radio media campaign letting citizens and officials know that adopting these ordinances was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, we were forced to bring the legal action.”
    Among other things, the ordinances required that developers and builders set aside, build and deed restrict 20 percent of a development for “workforce housing.” Under the ordinances, the deed restricted properties are then reserved for people making 100% to 160% of the median wage in Valley County. The local government would then award priority points to certain types of jobs that would qualify for the housing. Such homes would be permanently price-restricted. The ordinances mandated an equivalent “in lieu of” fee as an option to building such homes.
    IAR President Willis Stone said that while his organization and MCBR support affordable housing the city of McCall went too far by imposing a disguised tax and infringing on private property rights.
    “The Court recognized that, while the goal of providing affordable housing may be laudable, there is no authority for enacting ordinances which require that developers provide affordable housing or to require a subsidy from landowners to further those goals,” Stone said. “Workforce housing is a community problem. It ought to have a
    community solution. It is not fair to balance the problem on the backs of private property owners, or the real estate industry – a very important industry in our economy.”
    The 4th Judicial District Court included the following points in the Memorandum Decision:
    • “These restrictions go much further than merely regulating the use of property; instead, they essentially regulate ownership of the property by dictating to whom a unit may be sold or rented.”
    • “This Court concludes such ‘regulation’ is arbitrary and unreasonable as a land use provision.”
    • “This Court is convinced that the imposition of the subsidy or fee required under Ordinance Nos. 819 and 820 are, in reality, a tax, and not a regulation.”
    The REALTORS®’ lead attorney, David Gratton of Evans Keane LLP said the court’s decision was well reasoned and thorough.
    “The Court said pretty plainly that a fee charged to one segment of society to offset the burdens of the community as a whole is a tax – not a fee – and as such, is unlawful tax. Those types of disguised taxes exceed a city or county’s authority.” Gratton said. “We have made this argument from the beginning. There are a line of cases in Idaho a mile long supporting us.”
    IAR Chief Executive Kevin Price said his group and affiliated groups would continue to work with the state and local municipalities to provide affordable housing in communities like McCall. But he said that there were already plenty of provisions in the law to create affordable housing in any Idaho community.
    “The City simply went too far and exceeded its authority. The imposition of this burden on the landowners or developers amounts to an unlawful tax. In addition, the ordinances go much further than the City’s authority to regulate the use of property. By dictating to whom a housing unit may be sold or rented, the City has improperly attempted to regulate property ownership. We certainly agree with the Court’s determination that this “regulation” is arbitrary and unreasonable” Price added. “There are other jurisdictions in Valley County that have enacted these ordinances. We will be watching carefully to ensure that those ordinances are repealed in a timely manner.”
    “There are developments in Valley County constructed under the ordinances. When the market softened, consumers had a choice between purchasing deed-restricted lots that can’t appreciate in price, or unencumbered lots for the same price. Naturally, buyers chose to purchase homes with no free-market restrictions. Some of these “affordable workforce housing units” have been laying vacant for months. The people who were forced to build them are really taking a bath.”

  16. JC

    goof & jhwgirl, is there way we can bring this discussion down to the level of one relevant to the families in our community that are in need of affordable housing?

    Sometimes I think that when the discussion gets all caught up in a talk about how new housing is so difficult, and developers vs. builders vs. city/county, that the people most in need of affordable housing get lost in the process.

    I’d hardly say that $156k homes for families with $54k income represents the situation in Missoula, where median (much less starting) family incomes are much less than this. Factor in decent rentals starting at $750/2 br, $900/ 3 br for apartments, and tack on another $150-200 for a house, and Houston, we have a problem.

    If we accept the notion that 1/3 of income should go to housing, then we find that much of Missoula is above that level–for some, way above that level.

    And if families are spending a disproportionate amount of income on housing, then they are doing other things, like: not saving for a down payment on a house later in life; driving older, less fuel efficient cars that pollute more; not purchasing health insurance, avoiding health care, and all the costs associated with that; not moving their families to areas where they have a relatively better chance of surviving, because they cannot save enough money to do so, and so can’t afford to; and not saving money for things like retirement, rainy days, and college educations.

    My point here is that the state of unaffordable housing in Missoula, and elsewhere in Montana creates a lot of side effects with serious social implications. So while it is fine to talk about how new construction may be molded a bit to provide for affordable housing for the upper middle class in Missoula, what do the rest of us do? We’re caught in a market that seems to be out of our control, and the best we can do is try to hold on, in hopes of a better day.

    In short, until we start looking at the needs of the population of Missoula that can neither afford the $156k house, nor expect to reach the $54k income level anytime soon, and whose rents are skyrocketing over $1k/month and housing costs represent 50%+ of income, then the discussion becomes a bit pedantic and meaningless.

    What we need in Missoula is a good discussion that lays out the demographics, family income levels, house purchasing and rental prices, lending and renting practices and a good frank discussion about how we can get the cost of housing down to the 1/3 income level–particularly for the poorer among us. But I don’t see any developers, or the city/county doing so. Maybe because the reality has become so bleak?

  17. Bob Oaks

    JC,

    I believe the discussion you desire is on the horizon as part of City Administration’s current efforts. OPG has been assembling the demographic and pricing data. In terms of tools, I’d like to see the community discuss as wide a range as possible. An interesting website from the State of Washington is available at:

    http://srch.mrsc.org:8080/mrscsite/template.htm?view=mainresults

    The first link there includes some references to inclusionary housing ordinances that have not been overturned, although it goes beyond that tool. It’s one of the best sites I’ve run across and worth a look.

    If you want to see HUD’s 2008 income determinations and fair market rent determinations for Missoula go to:

    http://www.huduser.org/datasets/il/il08/index.html

  18. FOT

    Yes, reality is awfully bleak for people like you. That’s because Missoula is not Sim City.

    You can play the role of Master Planner of the Whole Universe if you like, but adults will not take you seriously.

  19. JC – since you addressed me – “is there a way we can bring this conversation down…” – I’m not sure what, specifically,you are referring to, but I’m sure gonna give it a try.

    The $54,000 figure? Engen’s film didn’t use that by a mere guess…it is the median income for a family of 4 here in Missoula. That number comes from HUD.

    The $156K number? That number, also in Engen’s film, was referred to by a housing finance professional – and that is the cost of an “affordable” home for that family of 4 making $54K.

    The family of 4 median income number? That is the typical earmark number that any community would use – based on the relative median income of its community – when talking about affordable or unaffordable housing in relation to the median home price.

    That I said that affordable housing was 1/3 of a persons income? I got that figure from HUD. When anyone in a professional or advocacy position is talking about affordable housing, and they use the word “affordable”, that is what they are talking about. It really isn’t relative to what everyone wants to think it is – there’s got to be some math and factual basis behind it. In short, HUD defines what affordability is, and communities and housing agencies all across the US use that as the definition.

    Now, the affordability of what someone can afford is relative – if you don’t make $54K, obviously,a $156K house isn’t affordable.

    What Engen’s film did was open up the discussion of housing costs for those who make more than 80% of the median income – at least that’s my take on it, given he used the median income figure.

    All housing agencies in this town service people who make less than an up to 80% of the median income. Median income people – anyone making over 80% – aren’t getting any help. They’re on their own.

    And again, affordability is relative to how much you make.

    As for my statements regarding requiring affordable housing to pay impact fees? Impact fees have to be applied evenly – because they are impactfees. Poor people – your term, not mine – impact the roads (for example) as much as anyone else. Impact fees are a sticky legal thing to impose…and defensibility is number one concern when applying them. But don’t believe me – go ahead and ask Steve King in City Engineering.

    In my second comment, I said “I say we are feeling those effects, but truly we need a housing needs assessment done. A strong factual analysis.” A “housing needs assessment” is a comprehensive study that is done of the housing needs, the housing availability, and huge amounts of economic data…along with trends and projections.

    All I can think, given you addressed both me and goof equally, is that you really didn’t read what I wrote.

    Goof, on the other hand, had been at least mildly supportive of affordable housing – and he’s well able to correct or clarify that statement. His posting of the legal case is merely a warning, I guess.

    He has chastised me – every single time, I might add – for citing fireman and policeman – and not citing clerks and tellers and others that typically don’t make the higher wages that those professionals that I cite do.

    Goof’s also smart enough to know (I’d hope) that much more would have to be known before I, at least, went thinking differently by reading about that court case. After all, communities in California and Nevada and Colorado and Wyoming have required inclusionary housing from their developers for decades…if it were that simplistic (all inclusionary housing is illegal), it’d be done long ago.

    My suspicion is that there were failures in the needs assessment/legal defensibility data.

  20. JC

    jhwygirl, I was just referencing you and goof because it seemed that you two were having an extensive conversation, and a good one at that. I did read most of what you guys wrote, and the one point that you emphasized above, the need for a housing needs assessment, sounds exactly like the kind of information we need to open up a broad discussion in this town. How does a community go about such an analysis?

    I guess the reason I ask all this, is because I get the feeling that affordable housing needs aren’t going to be met in Missoula for many, many families by new construction, or subsidized construction. And existing housing is inflating in price faster than wages are rising, hence the problem of affordable housing for lower income families (sorry about the “poor” reference, though I do consider it my demographic) is increasing.

    I’m just suggesting that the affordable housing discussion, community-wide, be structured in a way that people in lower incomes feel included, and that they are encouraged to participate. Sometimes i feel like there is nothing in the affordable housing debate for me (and many others) because we don’t have a large enough income to participate, and the subsidized programs only reach a small percentage of those that could qualify.

  21. Ahh…you are right – goof and I were kinda going at it. I wrote this late, he kicked in before I hit the sack, and it went from there.

    I absolutely, 100% agree that everyone needs to be in the conversation. I hope and certainly believe that will be the case. There are plenty of housing professionals that are just dying to get after that.

    You have a valid point, and have gently reminded me, that even though all of the housing agencies serve those that make up to 80% of the median, there isn’t a whole lot of cash that can be spread around to serve that need.

    On that subject, I don’t know that it all has to be new construction…what about existing multifamily apartments? Could converting those to market units be acceptable? I think so, but they really have to meet certain quality standards – minimum square feet, solid structure, good appliances, furnace, water heater, etc.

    That’s really kinda the problem, I think – I mean, even if there is something on the market that one can actually afford to purchase, for most that means a dump. Makes no sense to purchase a dump that you have to spend tons and tons of money to keep heated and replace everything.

    Myself? My heating bills are extraordinary! There is little if any insulation – in the summer this place is unbearably hot. The walls are warm to the touch and in the winter? The furnace would run 24/7 if I didn’t use space heaters and an electric mattress pad. My rent might not e too bad, but factoring in all the other financial things I have to deal with to keep it livable, its far from affordable.

    I think – I know – that we are at this discussion because we’ve reached a tipping point. Incomes haven’t risen with the median housing cost. The median housing cost has risen exponentially. The sad fact of the matter is that it is coming down to $ – businesses aren’t able to maintain reasonable stable growth. Call me a cynic, but if the business machine were running like a well-oiled growth machine, we wouldn’t be here.

    But I’ll take what we got.

    Remember – and I’ll be screaming it out once he officially announces it – there’s a meeting in March. They’ll be collecting data at some time – maybe there – and they’ll need you there to participate.

    But JC? What ideas do you have? I mean, I dont’ know what you make – don’t need to – but what would help you? People you know? You’ve obviously given this some thought.

  22. goof houlihan

    JC wrote, “Sometimes i feel like there is nothing in the affordable housing debate for me (and many others) because we don’t have a large enough income to participate, and the subsidized programs only reach a small percentage of those that could qualify.”

    That’s accurate. Nothing’s addressing below 80% AMI until you get to tax credit housing. The workforce housing discussion is to retain the ability of the middle class to afford to live in a town.

    And jhwygirl, I just got the lawsuit; it’s hot off the press and we shall see how the decision holds up on appeal. I hope it doesn’t inspire any copycats down here.

  23. goof – was a comprehensive needs assessment done? Something that looked at the effects of the housing market on the economy?

    One’s based on that seem to have held up in challenges. Validation of a greater, valid community concern.

  24. goof houlihan

    At least twice. However, I don’t think JC would call it “comprehensive”. However, there was sufficient data about the whole market. Turns out “housing” is available at all levels and renters are hard hit, but not particularly hard hit compared to entry level (condo, townhome, tiny sfh) ownership. So the consultant, when asked, pointedly, “do we have an affordable housing problem” said “no” but you have “workforce housing” problem. So people who are reasonably skilled and in demand in the workforce could rent, but not buy.

    Bozeman tried at least two other attempts, the one before inclusionary zoning was forcing at least some reduced size lots with maximum coverage. That didn’t work.

    There was a top down attempt made at inclusionary zoning, which stirred up three and a half hours of testimony and people being called bigots who opposed inclusionary zoning and being compared to the KKK and people being called, lazy and shiftless on the other hand. Fortunately a task force of realtors and builders and clergy and the mortgage lenders and a guy who builds tax credit housing, etc, came up with an inclusionary housing ordinance that was endorsed by realtors and the chamber of commerce.

    The segment, say, under 30,000 total household income, is addressed solely by disappearing trailers and other substandard housing, and tax credit apartments.

    The impact fee iquestion s interesting. It really is a big part of a builder’s margin. There is some evidence to support some lower figure for smaller dwelling units. Not as many cars or toys, for example, fewer trips shopping, etc.

  25. JC

    I don’t have any specific ideas yet. But I am concerned about process. I think some of the distinctions in market segment that goof talks about is good stuff. I don’t get the sense that Missoula understands the concepts of workforce housing (rent/buy), inclusionary housing, etc.

    What I would like is some solid data by which we can start discussing issues. While a comprehensive needs assessment is obviously a good starting point, a lot of other things need to be considered. Like a good demographic profile–family size, income levels, rent or own, rental prices, etc. I’m interested in figures like how many Missoulians are there in the middle quintile (10% of population on either side of the median income), and what is the actual income spread on that, i.e, what is the income of the family that is at the dividing line between the 2nd and third quintile (represented by 60% of families having a larger income).

    In Missoula we already know that the median income ($54k) can only purchase a home at $156k or lower (or I suppose, $156k + equity or savings brought forward). So that leaves 50% of Missoula families basically ought of luck finding a home to purchase, unless they have significant equity or savings.

    So a question i would ask, is how many families in Missoula, who want to purchase a home can’t do so because of the large spread between their income and income needed to qualify for the price of available housing (and don’t qualify for subsidized housing)? This would seem to be the segment of the population that is getting hit with high rental prices (and paying more than 1/3 income for housing to do so), yet can’t save enough to lower the lending threshold. I think a lot of people n this category would be what goof refers to as needing workforce housing. My bet is we have a large population of people like this in Missoula (myself included).

    Another piece of information i’d like to see would be a good breakdown in costs for new housing–land prices, impact fees, materials costs, labor costs, profit, etc. I know this will be like pulling teeth from developers, but my sense here is that as we work down the income scale, and approach that $156k home that the median income can buy, that the price of the lot is 50%. That is a huge chunk of the cost for new development (single family homes).

    Given that we have a good picture of the housing, income, and costs of living in Missoula, then we can set about to analyze it and see what can be done. I’m going to look at some MHA data here today, and I’ll think about it some more.

  26. JC

    Ok, here’s some interesting new MHA stats. They have over 2,000 families on their waiting lists for Section 8 vouchers and housing they own. That’s mostly for families at 50% AMI or below.

    What I’d like to know is how many families in MIssoula are in the 50-80% AMI (roughly $27k – $43k/year) bracket (I’d venture to say about 10,000 families, given 80,000 people in the valley, and about 2.4 persons/family). And what are the housing costs for this category by a % of income? I’d venture to say over 50% for the low end, and approaching 1/3 at the high end.

    So what does all of this tell me?

    That fully 30% of families in the Missoula valley are in a situation where they aren’t poor enough to qualify for subsidized housing, and if they were, the waiting list and time to receive assistance is daunting. And they aren’t rich enough to participate in unsubsidized, affordable housing programs, if said programs were available to provide a house/housing unit in the $160k + range that you need $54k/year to purchase.

    That’s a lot of families stuck in the lower middle class in Missoula with nowhere to go. And my sense is that it is growing larger. And those families are paying a larger percentage of income for housing costs as rent and utility costs escalate.

    This is the demographic area that I am interested in seeing the city/county and developers/bankers, etc. begin including in their discussion on housing in Missoula. Otherwise the notion of affordable housing begins to take on the tone of how to provide housing to the middle class (3rd quintile–with the AMI being right in the middle of that).

    This whole argument about affordable housing then becomes rather meaningless to a larger segment of Missoula’s un/underserved demographics: the 10,000 working poor and elderly families in the greater Missoula valley area.

  1. 1 Affordable Housing Initiative Meeting Thursday, March 13th « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] of the initiative was first discussed at the February 25th city council hearing when the Mayor unveiled a 20 minute video, produced by […]

  2. 2 The Mayor’s Community Discussion on Housing in Missoula « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] format was pretty free-form – the Mayor first showed a 20 minute documentary outlining the issue and then introduced four people from his housing initiative panel – Chad Nicholson, a firefighter […]




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