Archive for the ‘Affordable Housing’ Category

by jhwygirl

In what is either another misguided attempt or act of malfeasance in search of affordable housing, Missoula City Council approved Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s) for all residential zones.

I’ve written once about this ADU proposal. My main objection is the negative impact it is going to have on affordable housing. Other issues are just as valid, such as the higher taxes it will bring. Enforcement is a huge issue for many, the city notorious for not wanting to enforce stuff (like fireworks?) Council also didn’t provide much for convincing answers to how they could enforce the “owner occupied” portion of the law – especially when questioned about previous legal opinions to the contrary.

So I see this story in the Missoulian from city government reporter Keila Szpaller and I just shake my head. There is a picture of an advocate for ADU’s – Ms. Brown is quoted as saying “ADUs are not the end of the world. They are not the end of Missoula as we know it. They are another affordable housing option, and as an older individual, I’m looking for those.”

BUT – read the caption under the photo which accompanies the article, and the advocate for affordable housing says she wants to build a cottage to rent out the main house.

I ask you: How is that creating affordable housing? Ms. Brown, who owns a house, is going to build a guest cottage to live in and then she’s going to rent out her university district home. Now – I’m sure this has already been all worked out, but let me explain how this is going to work because now we’ve been given such a clear example.

Occupant of said house – who is likely having trouble keeping up with property taxes, in addition to having a need to downsize – is going to go to the bank and present the finance officer with a plan for how much they are going to rent the main house. Estimating taxes, costs and revenues, they’ll then offer their home as collateral.

Bam! Property values have increased for that lot because of the improvements. So the neighbors next door with a family and two working incomes who were able to afford their 3 bedroom home are now faced with a tidy uptick in their property values. And the cycle goes on.

The comments on Ms. Szpaller’s story don’t miss that, either.

A motion was made to have the ADU proposal go to the voters, but that was struck down. No surprise there – the city had previously taken a city-wide survey to prove how everyone like the idea and the results were that a majority was not in support of the proposal.

In the end, Councilors Jason Wiener, Alex Taft, Cynthia Wolken, Bob Jaffe, Ed Childers, Mike O’Herron, and Marilyn Marler voted for the ADU’s – and Jon Wilkins, Adam Hertz, Caitlin Copple, Dave Strohmaier and Dick Haines voting no.

So THANK YOU Jon, Adam, Caitlin, Dave and Dick for voting no.

The city’s going to get sued. They pretty much know that. The truth is, they don’t really care. The city has insurance coverage for this type of thing, so their cost is minimal as opposed to the organizing of funds that the opponents are going to have to do to hire an attorney.

Sad. It’s really a nasty thing when government – whether it be town, city, county, state or federal – takes the position that “you can’t sue city hall.” They have their staff and insurance pool of attorneys – any individual or group has to then step up and get the job done. I believe that is the case here, illustrated by the city’s previous survey, and Monday’s night failed vote to take it to the voters.

In this case, I have no doubt. Myra Shults has been out in front of this for a while. I may be wrong, but I believe she used to be a Montana Association of Counties (MACo) staff attorney for land use issues. Ms Shults was also up front and center with the gravel pit issue down near Lolo back several years ago.

Ms Shults was successful in that the gravel pit was halted – and without her involvement, I don’t know that it would have happened.

I may even donate some popcorn money to the cause.

by Pete Talbot

I was worried sick.

With all the lawsuits and counter-suits and counter-counter suits, I was afraid the Yellowstone Club — the private ski club for the uber-rich south of Bozeman — might be failing.

The Bozeman Chronicle tells us otherwise. The story quotes CrossHarbor Capital Partners head honcho Sam Byrne who says business is booming. CrossHarbor picked up the club for pennies on the dollar after the club declared bankruptcy in 2008. The alleged mismanagement of funds, particularly a $375 million Credit Suisse loan, led to the club’s downfall. Also in play is the nasty divorce of club founders Tim and Edra Blixseth, and more lawsuits and motions than you can shake a stick at: bankruptcy hearings, ex-husband suing ex-wife and vice-versa, members suing the Yellowstone Club, Tim Blixseth filing a motion to disqualify the bankruptcy judge, banks suing holding companies, holding companies suing banks …

But not to worry, the club has added 40 new members and has sold $175 million in real estate.

It’s comforting to know that in the middle of the Great Recession, in an era of stagnant development and foreclosures, folks can still afford to build 20-thousand-square-foot homes. Some people can, anyway.


Missoula is a fine city… a city I’m proud to call home because of its culture, people, neighborhoods, beer, scenery, architecture, etc.  I am one of those many thousands of people that are not “native” but were attracted here over the last three decades because of how great the Missoula lifestyle is and after nearly a decade of living here I feel like this is my hometown.  And so I hope you can understand my frustration when Missoula is derided as the basket case of Montana.

The argument heard over and over again from various people goes something like this; “Bottom line, the problem is Missoula is run and heavily populated by Liberals*,” originally from the evil, socialist, and morally corrupt state of California. Those damn hippies hate anyone who dares to try and start a business and, “are vocally anti corporate*”.  All these transplants are ruining Missoula for the Missoula natives; outsiders add to congestion, low wages, a bad job market, unaffordable housing, and worse government.  If only local government would get out of my bathroom, stop preventing me from getting from point A to B with all this traffic calming bullshit, and stop telling me how I can advertise my business Missoula would be a great place and Smurfit-Stone never would have pulled out.

I’ll attempt to address and dissect these complaints in an ongoing series about Missoula and will argue that Missoula’s liberal culture is perhaps its greatest asset and that many of Missoula’s weaknesses are in fact geographical in nature rather than political or cultural.

Lets start with the claim that liberalism is destroying Missoula economically.  Its perfectly true that Missoula is a transformed town from the mill-town it once was 30 or 40 years ago, but what western town or city hasn’t seen radical shifts in their economies?  Resource extraction, manufacturing, and the associated supporting infrastructure and jobs have seen major declines since the late seventies all across the country.  This isn’t because of liberals but because of capitalism… markets have been opened up and such industries are now mainly based in low wage countries in Asia.

So all you haters don’t blame liberals… blame other nations full of people working harder at lower wage rates… if only they would unionize we might get our jobs back.  The conservative blame game pointed at Missoula’s liberals comes out of frustration with change and an unknown future.  They see change all around them from the subdivision swallowing up farm fields and the mill jobs disappearing to the bike lanes going in all over town and they don’t understand where all this change has come from or where it will lead… so they lash out at the closest thing, local liberals.

Despite Missoula’s transformation and loss of old economy employment the town hasn’t been hit terribly hard economically through most of the last 40 years… in fact Missoula has experienced a higher rate of job growth than conservative leaning and business friendly Billings.  According to The Bureau of Business and Economic Research’s Montana Regional Economic Analysis Project Missoula experienced job growth of 216% from 1969-2008 while Billings job growth was 168% and Montana and National growth was a slower rate of 118% and 99% respectfully.  Average employment growth in Missoula beat Billings every decade since the seventies and thats with Billing’s boom in the oil and natural gas service industry.  Even in the current economic climate Missoula’s job losses have been less than those experienced in the early 80s, about 2.5% compared with about 9%.  Income growth has also outpaced Billings, with Missoula experiencing total personal income increase over the same time period by 318% as compared to Billings (273%), Montana (204%), and the Nation (228%) as a whole.  Not bad Missoula!

It is exactly because of Missoula’s more liberal and open culture combined with its recreational opportunities and lifestyle that has attracted such growth and not tax rebates and large corporations.  Economists Thomas Power and Richard Barret make a great case for the “New West” economy in their book Post-Cowboy Economies.   Their argument is that faltering industrial economies have opened up the west for new economic opportunities based not on resource extraction but on environmental quality, in-migration, recreation/tourism, and knowledge based services (finance, engineering, medical services, etc).  The old western economy and the new western economy were both mutually exclusive, unable to exist simultaneously within the same geographic space.  This new economy is bringing along more prosperity, wider ranging economic development, and booming growth as evidenced by the fact that the Mountain West was the fastest growing region in the 90s and aughts.

This “New West” economy has produced huge gains for Missoula.  Between 2001-2007 Missoula County saw net employment growth of 10,632, or 15%, with growth being the greatest in the professional and technical services (27%), healthcare (13%), arts/entertainment/recreation (44%), education (38%), real estate (70%), administration (41%), and finance (10%).  During that same time Missoula County’s poulation increased from 97,400 to 107,552, or 10.4%.

So yes… Missoula has experienced an amazing amount of change in the last several decades fueled mostly by in-migration and shifting employment and industrial sector growth.  Its utter poppycock that Missoula has a lousy economy even given the current situation.  Missoula has been a leader in many fields and has developed first class educational and healthcare services for our region that not only attract people to Missoula but also act as the area’s largest employers.

The recent closing of the last remaining mills in the area and the loss of Macy’s might play heavily within the communal psychology of Missoula but are largely beyond the control of locals.  While the loss of over 400 Stone Container jobs is a big loss and affects many families its a sign of strength and diversity that such a loss makes such a small dent in total employment.  Such local events are part of the process of resetting the economic playing field to allow capital to be freed from unprofitable economic pursuits.  New opportunities that are net yet in sight will come to occupy these vacant spaces.  We aren’t experiencing anything different from anywhere else in the country and are in far better shape than similar communities in the Detroit area or Phoenix suburbs.

So all you haters… get over the hate and embrace the closest liberal you can find and lets work together to bring Missoula into the future as a strong regional leader… otherwise suck on Missoula’s barm.

*Quotes from various local online comment sections

by jhwygirl

Since when did Renee Mitchell ever give a ^#&* whether a developer was going to be able to “stay afloat”?

Good lord, the false trolling that woman will go through trying to scare up a big green ugly monster on something like a $5,000,000 grant to a developer who is going to rehab blight (increase tax revenues for the city) and provide essential housing for working class folk here in Missoula.

The Missoulian’s Keila Szpaller has the rundown on the grant, which passed after as much wrenching around as most of council could muster…the vote coming down 7-3 on the side of bringing $5,000,000 influx of economic development into Missoula.

I’m sure Jon Wilkins is so proud he’s aligned himself with these bitter petty individuals.

by jhwygirl

I don’t write about affordable housing enough, although some of you might disagree. It can’t be overstated, though, and having affordable housing in any community is key to facilitating economic growth and development.

Missoula is going to continue to have a hell of a time attracting good paying sustainable jobs until such time that it has entry level ownership opportunities for entry-level professionals. This is all the more important with the closure of Smurfit.

I mention this because the Gallatin County Commissioners will be deciding on Tuesday whether to accept a $7 million grant that would go to the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) for a housing development that will service those making 50% of the median income.

Now, apparently, the teabaggers have gotten wind of this grant – the application of which was approved by this very same county commission this past May in a 2-1 vote – and there is pressure on one of the commissioners (one who, by chance, happens to be up for election) to vote “no” on accepting the grant.

Blame it on – seriously, I’m not joking – the irrepressible (and apparently irresponsible) Scott Sales (who is hinting that running for said county commission seat just might be in his future).

It’s amazing to me how shortsighted these teabagger-types can be. Turning this grant down is going to put greater pressure on an already overpriced housing market. Not only that, it is going to make finding employees for the large number of service-related jobs harder and harder.

Because – and I know this is a hard concept for teabaggers to understand since they don’t do much more than soundbites – Montana isn’t dropping in median housing costs like a whole hell of a lot of the rest of America. We’ve been lucky – just ask any realtor – in that the housing market here in Montana (and even less so in places like Missoula and Bozeman) hasn’t been greatly affected by the downturn.

It’s pretty basic: Businesses can’t run without employees. Affordable employees. Simple concept, really.

So why does Scott Sales and his teabagger friends hate small business?

Having decent housing for these service-related jobs – jobs a community can’t do without – ensure that the market housing maintains as much semblance of affordability as is possible. This grant is for those making less than 50% of the median income.

The median income for a household in Bozeman is $45,000…which makes 50% of median a full-time $10.00/job.

Thing is – few will say that housing in Bozeman is affordable, right?

Which is probably where Scott sales comes in. It’s sheer lunacy – Scott Sales-type lunacy – to turn this money down. It’ll go somewhere (and I bet Missoula or Helena or Great Falls would be glad to take it) – and with it will go a more stable pro-business economy to whatever community gets it.

There are people and businesses in Bozeman and Gallatin County that are counting on the county commission – at least the 2 that had the pro-business common sense to approve the application – to have the pro-business common sense again to accept the grant.

That is, of course, unless everyone wants to start having to pay more for all those sorts of things that employee $10/hour employees – banks and universities and restaurants and conveniece stores and box stores and local main street stores. Hell – I’m betting the county itself employs quite a number of people that make around $10/hour.

But don’t worry Scott Sales and Gallatin County teabaggers – when the county has to hire another roadworker or police officer or office assistant, and they cost more because the cost of a basic need (housing) just went up, they’ll just pass that bill onto you – the taxpayer.

by jhwygirl

I think the county fairgrounds should be relocated and rebuilt with the historic buildings down by Fort Missoula and make that whole area a combination park and historic center and activity/expo center.

Fort Missoula is the biggest bestest asset the county has – and it speaks to what Missoula and Montana and the history of our nation. Incorporating the fairgrounds down there would be one of the smartest things that could happen for both the fairgrounds and the Fort.

Then that property should be sold to some housing trust where the underlying ground collects perpetual income from a mixed-use, predominately affordable housing development.

Hey! I can dream, can’t I?!

by Pete Talbot

After a pitcher of Badlander IPA, the mayor and the planners relaxed, and then gave a concise and passionate argument for the Missoula Zoning Rewrite.

The title of the event sucked me in: “Everybody Must Get Zoned.” But it turned out to be a straight-forward look at the zoning process and policy, and what Missoula could be in the future.

Missoula’s zoning laws, except for some tweaking here-and-there, are 30-to-50-years-old — based on an Ozzie and Harriet family model. The demographics in Missoula, however, have changed.  Now, 22 percent are single family, and then there’s the rest of us (mixed families, singles, empty-nesters, students, retired) but we’re still zoned like it’s the 1950’s.

OPG Director Roger Millar and senior planner Mike Barton were with the mayor at the invitation of Forward Montana. It was informal, about 35 people at the Badlander: politicos, seniors, organizers, students and folks like me.

Mayor Engen reminded everyone that it’s been a two-year, open-to-the-public, process. All points of view are in play and there are no deal breakers. Millar spoke to the history of zoning — laws that basically said ‘no’ to how we develop instead of ‘yes’ to what we’d like to see. Barton talked about specifics and how the rewrites would make laws clearer.

All three speakers have been around the block, understand Missoula, and have a vision for what’s going to sustain and enhance our community.

To hear the critics, the proposed zoning changes would have a radical impact on our neighborhoods. What I heard seemed pretty mild to me: minor changes in lot size and density calculations and height allowance, etc.; maybe some B&B’s, and accessory dwelling units here-and-there. The kind of things forward-looking cities have been doing for awhile.

I didn’t take my notebook, again, so I’m paraphrasing at best. I needed to get out of the house, have a beverage and catch up on local stuff, so this was a good diversion on a late March, wintry evening. I’m glad I went and was encouraged by what I heard.

Please folks, get involved. Here’s the info, and if you can’t make it to a planning meeting or talk to your ward representative or go to a PAZ committee meeting, at least you can comment. This is an opportunity to shape the future of Missoula.

by jhwygirl

Legislators report back for floor sessions Monday afternoon – the House at 4:30 p.m., the Senate at 5 p.m.

Committee hearings start back up on Tuesday morning. There are 92 hearings for Tuesday and Wednesday. Wow. Back to work, huh?

Also, the Senate Finance and Claims Committee will hold a public hearing and informational meeting on the federal economic stimulus package, Tuesday, March 3rd from 8 a.m. until noon. This webpage has additional information.

On Tuesday, in House Judiciary, is Sen. Larry Jent with his castle doctrine bill, SB92. This is the sanest of the castle doctrine – justification of deadly force bills. It passed the Senate with a 45 – 3 vote at 3rd reading. In House Judiciary – Jennifer Eck the secretary –

This one is bugging me: Rep. Michael More has a bill titled Revise School Laws – HB624. It does a number of things, including granting a tax credit to anyone with a dependent enrolled in elementary or secondary education – for both publicly and privately enrolled students. It talks about “allowing lower-income parents the same ability that wealthier parents now have in selecting the school of their choice enhances equality of educational opportunity” and “that competition in the educational marketplace has a strengthening effect on both public and private education and serves the long-term best interests of all students,” – all Rush Limbaugh-like talking points. While there are good components in this one – it includes a Montana Excellence in Teaching Award program – tax credits that erode at public school funding are bad, bad things. Just say NO to this one, people. In House Taxation – Jennifer O’Loughlin the secretary –

On Wednesday, the ever hard-working Rep. Mary Caferro has HB579, which would revise laws concerning paid sick leave to include issues concerning domestic violence and sexual offenses or stalking. A bill worthy of support. This is in House Business & Labor, Santella Baglivo the secretary –

Rep. Sue Dickenson has a great bill that would help affordable housing issues tremendously – HB636 would provide a tax incentive to persons who own mobile home parks that sell them to certain entities – like housing authorities and tenant’s associations. How smart is that?! In House Taxation – Jennifer O’Loughlin the secretary –

I’ve supported SB95 in the past, and it comes up in House Natural Resources after having passed the Senate on a 49-1 vote. SB95, sponsored by Sen. John Brueggman establishes base numeric nutrient discharge standards to be used to establish permit limits to discharge. Shirley Chovanak the secretary –

Another very supportable water issue bill – this one concerning water rights – is SB120, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Zinke. SB120 generally revises groundwater petition laws and allows for petitions from water rights holders. This one, too, in House Natural Resources, contact info above.

Sen. John Esp has SB119, which would require (rather than allow) a Medicaid buy-in for disabled workers. This passed 50-0 in the Senate. In House Human Services – Santella Baglivo the secretary,

Still on Wednesday, but moving on to senate committees – HB188 resurfaces again – thankfully. This one has been blogged about a few times, and narrowly survived the House floor vote. This bill protects renters rights, and would allow for double damages for wrongful withholding of security deposits. It’s in Senate Judiciary – Pam Schindler the secretary –

HB195 moves forward, also – blogged about here – and would allow for unsuccessful lottery applicants to be given preference in future lotteries. It’s now in Senate Business, Labor & Economic Affairs – Linda Keim the secretary,

HB30, blogged about previously here, allows for youth election judges. Me likes. In Senate State Administration, Libby Goodwin the secretary,

HB151 is in the Senate Public Health, Welfare & Safety, after having passed the House with a 89-7 vote. Blogged about here. This bill revises breast reconstruction mandates to comply with federal law. Joan Linkenbach is the secretary for this committee –

Well – that’s my roundup. There’s plenty more, as I mentioned above – make sure to check that whole list for Tuesday and Wednesday, and comment below on any that I’ve missed.

I’ll be checking other blogs that have been following this legislative stuff, and when I see anything, I’ll make sure that you 4&20 readers don’t miss them.

The Editor over at the Button Valley Bugle recently sent out a Group Hug to its readers – congratulating them on a job well done.

Gives yourselves a big pat on the back. In the first half of this year’s legislative session, Helena has received over 13,000 phone calls and more than 30,000 email messages for legislators. That is more than the total for the entire 2007 session. Latte’s on me at the Java Hut! Keep up the good work!

Is that amazing or what?!

Remember – if sending an email to the committee, be sure to mention both the bill number and that you would like for your comments to be forwarded to the entire committee. You can also call the Session Information Desk at 406-444-4800 to leave a message for as many as five legislators or one legislative committee per call. Your message will be delivered directly to the legislators. The TTY (Telephone Device for the Deaf) number is 406-444-4462. Here is a list of membership for all House committees and all Senate committees.

by jhwygirl

I suppose, perhaps, we are going to see some serious executive action this week on the backlog of previous hearings? The list of hearings seems awfully short: Only 8 hearings scheduled for both the House and Senate for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Which means I’ll have to be looking into what’s been left hanging.

On Monday, Rep. Mary Caferro finally gets her hearing on HB401 in House Appropriations. HB401 deals with regulations concerning meth-contaminated properties and is geared toward providing protections for renters and homebuyers. I blogged about this just a few days ago – and in case you missed that piece, just go and check this list out, which not only lists meth-contaminated properties around the state, but allows you to see how long (too long) it takes from determination that a property is meth-contaminated to when the property owner gets notified – yet alone how long it takes to get to a point of actual remediation. There is contact information in the previous post.

Sen. David Wanzenried has SB463 before the Senate Public Health, Welfare & Safety committee. This bill would make changes to laws concerning employment of disabled persons – making educational materials available and allowed them to be employed by family members. Joan Linkenbach is the secretary – Make sure to mention the bill by number and to note, specifically, that you are submitting public comment for the committee members.

Also on Monday, Sen. Jim Schockley has SB497, which is a messy affair – to say the lease. It would make it a crime to obstructing a protest at a health care facility. What if you are protesting the protest? Who can come withing 8 feet of whom? Talk about making it a mess for police. Maybe Shockley would rather see everyone arrested? Or is it “I was here first?” Better to protect the ability to protest, and to make sure those protesters are a safe distance away from the health care facility – like 100 feet? He’s got 36 feet in there. Lord – what a mess. Say “NO” to this one folks: Contact the Senate Judiciary committee by emailing Pam Schindler and telling her you are submitting public comment, and request that it be given to all the committee members. Her email address is

On Tuesday Rep. Betsy Hands is ushering HB569 which would set up a revolving state fund for affordable housing. I said Affordable Housing people – and rather than belabor the point, search 4&20 for that term, over there on the left, and you’ll see how badly this bill is needed. This is in House Appropriations, Samuel Speerschneider the secretary:

Remember, if you can’t or aren’t able to send an email, go ahead and call the Session Information Desk at 406-444-4800 to leave a message for the entire committee. You can also leave individual messages for individual legislators. Up to 5 at a time. Make sure to have the bill number handy. Your message will be delivered directly to the legislators. The TTY (Telephone Device for the Deaf) number is 406-444-4462. The Session Information Desk opens at 7:30 a.m., and closes at 5 p.m.

by jhwygirl

Allow stuff like this.

Short-term rentals (those less than 90 days) do wonders for property values.

I guess if you can’t sell it, gotta make money somehow. Right? So instead of dropping the price and selling it for what the market bears it out at, make it into an “investment property” and add it to the hotel-motel pool.

Found it originally on Missoula MLS.

Kinda wonder how long it’ll stay up there now on both webpages….

Frankly, there should be something in the zoning regs that doesn’t allow this in residential zoned areas, right?

by jhwygirl

The Mayor’s Housing Team team has been hard at work, and at tonight’s City Council hearing, Mayor John Engen will bring forth a resolution that will direct staff to develop implementation strategies to increase attainable housing for Missoula’s workforce.

The statistics are startling people – something most of you already know. I know I do. This link here will take you to numerous typical household scenarios here in Missoula, illustrating the gap between market housing and the household salary.

Or how about these:

– 52% of renters and 25% of homeowners in Missoula spend more than 30% of their monthly income to house themselves.

– A family making the median income in Missoula can afford a $165,000
home; the median home price for 2007 was $219,550.

– 70% of Missoulians could not afford to buy the house they live in
today if they had to buy it today.

For years now I’ve used a statement similar to the last one – asking people how much their house is worth, and then asking them if they could afford to buy it right now at that price on their current salary.

The answer is usually silence, followed by “no.”

And think about that first statistic – that 52% of renters and 25% of homeowners spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Why is that bad? Because that extra that they put into housing is less that they put into our local economy.

Not good for anyone, including local business.

For someone who makes more than 80% of the median income, but not enough to buy into market housing, the situation is all the more frustrating. A search of the Missoula Multi-Listing Service will come up with dozens of homes that are sold only to income eligible people who make 80% or less than the median income. Sure – there are many homes on the current MLS that would meet my income level – but most of them are 50+ years old, and would not meet the loan lender standards to sell to a first-time home buyer.

Beyond that, it is important for people who are scratching out their first-time home purchase to have something that isn’t falling apart – i.e., won’t need a new roof or a new water heater or even insulation. And while there is a constantly changing list of condominiums there, when looking at affordability a buyer has to consider monthly homeowners fees into that mortgage payment. So even though there are quite a bit of condos out there in a range that might seem affordable to me, the HOA fees push it into an unaffordable range.

Affordability is defined as housing that costs no more than 30% of your income – and that 30% would include fees like HOA fees, water, sewer, garbage, gas, electricity, taxes. NOT cable, phone, internet.

Even in this current housing downslump – a slump that, while it will hit (has hit) the Rocky Mountain West, will hit a lot less harder than the rest of the nation and will last a lot less shorter than the rest of the nation, because, as you know, location is everything – the market won’t provide. The amenities offered merely by living here in Montana are too strong a draw to keep our housing markets down for long.

What I appreciate in this resolution is the recognition that people making 80-125% of median are without help right now. All of the housing organizations right now provide housing for people below those levels, but the rest of us (or people like me) are left out in the cold. These are the working professionals, emergency responders, teachers, and police of Missoula.

The lack of affordable housing is affecting the ability of many businesses around town to hire and expand – engineering and surveying firms, hospitals and healthcare agencies, the university, and our police and school district – while able to attract qualified individuals to job interviews often can’t seal the deal because of the lack of homes in the market at the salaries our struggling businesses are able to afford.

How much do you want to be taxed to make sure we have basic services like police, fire and teachers?

Do you want your police, fire personnel and teachers driving from Ravalli, Mineral and Powell County?

The effect is stagnating.

You can’t buy the view.

There’s quite a few words amoungst our pages here at 4&20 regarding affordable housing. Consider checking these two out:
Affordable Housing and Firefighters
Affordable Housing for Police Only?

Or you could put “affordable housing” into the search over there on the left, and come up with this, which includes a wide mix of issues.

Consider showing up tonight letting council know you support this resolution – or, if you can’t make it, shoot the Mayor and the rest of city council an email letting them know to Get ‘Er Done.

Let these guys and gals know that Missoula’s economic stability and vitality are important to you – and that affordable housing for Missoula’s workforce is part of that mix.

by Jason Wiener

Bob Oaks of the North-Missoula Community Development Corporation (NMCDC) asked me to pass along this good news about NMCDC’s latest perpetually affordable home ownership project, Burns Street Commons, and Wednesday’s visit by Senator Baucus to celebrate the project’s completion.


This coming Wednesday, at 3:00 p.m., Missoula Mayor John Engen will join Senator Max Baucus to celebrate the completion of Burns Street Commons. The Commons is a 17-unit housing component of Burns Street Square, the largest publicly funded community revitalization project ever undertaken in this low-income Missoula neighborhood. The ribbon cutting ceremony will begin at 3:00 p.m. and will be followed by an open house of the Burns Street Commons’ homes. Refreshments will be served at both events. The Commons is located at 1400 Burns Street (between Cooley and Turner Streets). Burns Street Square is a project of the North-Missoula Community Development Corporation (NMCDC).

Since 2001, the NMCDC’s community land trust has provided 47 new homes for income qualified, first-time, buyers in Missoula.  Bob Oaks, Executive Director of the NMCDC says, “In terms of home ownership, over the last seven years, the NMCDC has built more homes in the old North and Westside neighborhoods than any other developer, including the for-profit sector that has concentrated more on multi-family rental projects.”

Oaks goes on to say, “Community land trusts are fast becoming the workforce housing strategy of choice in high cost communities. In Montana, these include the newly formed Whitefish Area Land Trust (WALT) and fledgling groups in Kalispell and Great Falls. Just last month, the Montana Board of Housing awarded the NMCDC a “Certificate of Excellence” for its pioneering work in establishing a community land trust in Missoula.”

Currently, the NMCDC has 17 new townhouse and condominium units for sale. The Burns Street Square development expands the community land trust model to include a commercially oriented community center building. That community center will focus on nutrition and will attempt to democratize fresh, local and whole foods to a wider variety of Missoulians.  The fledgling Missoula Community Market is already in the old freight building. The NMCDC plans to remodel it to add a cafe and commercial kitchen. Also last month, a federal appropriations subcommittee recommended that the NMCDC receive $1,000,000 to help with the building’s remodeling expenses.

For additional information on Burns Street Square contact the North-Missoula Community Development Corporation at (406) 829-0873 or visit

by jhwygirl

A long-term free fall of the Missoula housing market along with all the foreclosures, collapse of the mortgage and banking industry and recession that goes along with it.

Long term.

She says “Missoulapolis continues to see the glass as half-full, portending free-market affordable housing in Missoula in five years. Yes, it can happen here.”

Yeah, that’s a candidate I can get behind!

I wonder if she’s going to wheel out those blue Minjares HD 97 signs she used last-time around, with that tiny tiny barely visible little elephant?

Minjares also offered this solution to affordable housing last September.

Folks, this is your local GOP in action. Carol Minjares is Vice-Chair of the Missoula County Repubicans and Secretary of the Five Valleys Pachyderm.

by jhwygirl

The Mayor’s Community Discussion of Housing meeting was held this past Thursday. City Council chambers were packed with a wide variety of members of the community with varying views – from Councilman Dick Haines and University curmudgeon Lee Clemensen to Andrea Davis of the Missoula Housing Authority and local developer Perry Ashby.

It would have been nice to see a County Commissioner there (I didn’t notice any of them) – but Dennis Daneke, candidate for Larry Andersons seat (appointed after Barbara Evans retired), which is up for this next election, was there. Also present was State Representative Ron Erickson, of House District 97.

For whatever reason, the Missoulian failed to cover it.

The 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 for the City of Missoula; Rachael Bemis, a mortgage loan officer with Missoula Federal Credit Union; Perry Ashby, local developer of several subdivisions and sometimes business-partner with Westmont Builders; and Nancy Harte, Missoula Office of Planning & Grants administrator for the city’s HUD funding – and then went on to hand the microphone around the standing-room only (with overflow out into the hall) for the next 2+ hours.

There were opinions and thoughts and questions from all ends of the issue. Here are a few:

Dennis Danequeth, president of the local carpenter’s union posed this question (apologies if I’ve gotten the spelling wrong): I admit don’t know much about economics. If there is so much of a demand, how come the market isn’t supplying it? We should first let the market address the issue. Perhaps there are some obstacles in the way. Perhaps we should look at the regulations and give the market a chance.

Councilman Jon Wilkins: Perhaps my biggest disappointment was to find that our program with FHA could only fund one homebuyer with the federal money we got. We can fight this fabulous war that we are fighting but we can’t fight this war at home. I think it’s important that we keep the character of the neighborhoods. I have 2 kids – one is going to be a Doctor, and he probably won’t be coming back to Missoula…the other is probably going to be a social worker and she probably won’t be able to afford a home in Missoula. I might be able to give her my home or something, I don’t know. I don’t know what we are going to do, but more help is going to be important.

Steve Loken, of Loken Builders, who has received awards for his remodels that use recycle-and-reuse methods and newer energy saving technologies: We can build affordable housing, but we can’t find affordable land. We have to pay for good help – there are a whole bunch of factors involved. The city requires all kinds of things – setbacks, roads, sewer, building code. I remodel a whole lot of homes that were built by people who lived in them. Very few of us do that today. Builders like me have to look for qualified builders. We have to pay $12 – $14 – $17 – $18 per hour and if we don’t pay them that much, they’ll go elsewhere. Builders are caught between needing qualified builders and having to pay them a living wage. Land is the problem. I have a new formula – people need to participate in the building of their home. Cooperative Housing is a tool – clustering, changing zoning for infill – we have to be dense and we have to grow vertically. We can do this with good design. Operate efficiently. Limit the amount of equity in a housing cooperative. All over the mid-west, NYC, cooperatives are becoming the way. With these kinds of projects we can have affordable housing.

Doug Grimm (apologies, again, if I’ve gotten the spelling wrong), who identified himself as having lived in Montana “practically all his life” told a story of having lived in Greenwich Village paying $200/month for rent and sharing the place with 2 other guys. He had neighbors that paid $25/month for rent and he couldn’t believe it. Doug went on to explain how NYC had enacted rent control and what a horrible mistake it was. “The market should work it out,” he said. “If I came to Missoula,” he said, “and I was looking for a place to live, my next choice would be to go to Deerlodge. Deerlodge is pretty cheap. It could be the next Missoula. If we sent enough people to Deerlodge it could be come fabulous as Deerlodge. Do you realize that you can move to Jamestown New York and buy a nice house for $18,000 -$30,000? You could also move to Erie Pennsylvania and buy a home and work at Burger King!”

Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

Mayor John Engen’s essential workforce affordable housing initiative, titled Housing in Missoula: A Community Conversation, will debut in a public meeting to be held this Thursday at City Council Chambers at 140 Pine Street, at 7 p.m.

Notice of the initiative was first discussed at the February 25th city council hearing when the Mayor unveiled a 20 minute video, produced by MCAT.

The video is intended to initiate a community-wide conversation on the housing – the rising cost and the impacts it is having on community character, local business, the local economy and, as the video suggested, economic growth.

A packet containing local housing data will be available at the meeting.

Just in time for this conversation, oddly, the Missoula Organization of Realtors removed its market data and trend information from its website.

To be fair, that may have more to do with them trying to maintain the high prices on Missoula housing (that they’ve played a part in) through the Bush-influenced, banking-industry-run-amok recession that we are currently experiencing than any denial of the shortage of essential workforce housing here in Missoula.

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.

by jhwygirl

Tomorrow night, City Council will take the steps towards moving forward with very early plans for a new regional park at Fort Missoula. The consideration for tomorrow night is approval of $90,000 for design development which would provide cost estimation and a phasing plan for 25 acres of what may eventually be an 82 acre park. The plans would include a sports complex, picnic area, historic interpretations, trails, native and formal gardens and numerous other amenities. Many of this is outlined in the 2002 Fort Missoula site plan adopted by City Council.

With Missoula’s exploding growth, a regional destination park at Fort Missoula is an excellent idea. Soccer and baseball fields are crowded – and analysis shows that of all major Montana cities, Missoula has the least number of athletic fields per capita. Missoula provides less than half of the recommended athletic fields per capita as recommended.

I have friends who bring their children here for soccer games and soccer tournaments from all over Montana – fields are crowded, parking and traffic flow is poor. Last summer, her daughter’s team bus was struck by a vehicle in a crowded exit of the fields up the Rattlesnake. Any parent could tell you that could be traumatic – especially when your child is 120 miles from home.

Our parks generate revenue for this area – families come and stay in hotel rooms, they eat dinner in our restaurants, and then there is the obligatory shopping spree at the mall or Costco or wherever…all businesses that employ Missoulians.

What is clear is that to plan something like this, it is going to take some cash. We’ve done the master plan, and now Parks & Rec is asking for some cash to plan and project costs. A properly done regional destination park can’t be simply thrown together. You all know the saying – you’ve got to spend money to make money.

A park at Fort Missoula is a great idea. Let’s hope that council can come together on this an realize that it is a summary of many things – quality of life, investment in the community that is lacking what so many other communities have across the state, and investment in economic viability. It’s a good thing for many – not just the kids, but local businesses.

I’ll go further here and suggest that instead of bemoaning the fact that the historic buildings at the County Fairgrounds need saved, move them down there with Fort Missoula. There’s 92 acres – and the county even owns land down there too. The fairgrounds used to be way out of town – but they are now surrounded by commercial development. There’s little room for parking when the fair is actually in town – and the real estate would serve a far more valuable service as affordable housing if paired and planned as a housing trust.

And let’s not forget that not just people making 80% and less than the median need affordable housing. The working people – police, fire, nurses, small business – everyone – needs affordable housing. Frankly, I’m tired of all this focus on providing grant monies to those at 80% and less….there’s a hell of a lot of people out there struggling.

I see I’ve digressed to rant.

With that being said, I’ll add one more: Why is the bond that is being considered only for city residents? With a regional park, it seems to me that there are going to be people from all over the county using it. Kids from (at the very least) Frenchtown, Lolo and Clinton would be playing soccer on those fields. Rugby, baseball, and football players from all over. Little Griz….

If there’s going to be a bond, I suggest that the whole county chip in. Not only does that spread out the costs – it probably gets it done faster.

by jhwygirl

During Wednesday’s city council Public Safety and Health committee meeting, a discussion was had regarding recruitment of police. I’ll let Bob Jaffe give it to you:

We confirmed a couple of police officers and had an interesting discussion about recruiting and retention of our officers. According to the Chief, we now have one of the highest paying and best trained forces in the state.Since our last contract negotiation we are in a much better place for recruiting and retention. But even with our new pay scale our officers find it hard to afford to purchase a home in this community. Some communities offer down payment assistance for their officers. Maybe we can find a way to do something like that.

That’s some good stuff there – the best trained forces in the state? – Missoula both deserves and needs that (especially with Bobby Hauck, run amok) – but it does illustrate some of the very issues I’ve been speaking about. (For more b’bird stuff on affordable housing, click on the “affordable housing” tag at the end of this piece).

Affordable housing is essential to provide essential services to the community. It’s also necessary to ensure economic viability.

In the situation put forth at Wednesday’s committee meeting, we’ve got the best paid police force in the state, and yet we’re still having trouble recruiting police men and women because they can’t afford to purchase a home.

But who all deserves to have the city subsidize or assist in providing assistance for purchasing a home? Police? (check) Fire? (check) Ambulance Drivers? (check) Teachers? (check) School bus drivers? (check) Nurses? (check) Public Works employees? (check)

You understand where I’m going with this…..

Now – I support having the best police force Missoula could possibly have – hell, I support every community having the absolutely best police force it could absolutely have. Policemen and women deserve to be well-paid. Not only do they protect the community and ensure its sustainability, they take their lives into their hands every single time they put on that uniform. Absolutely without a doubt. I am not trying to say that the police don’t deserve to have help with their housing.

But if we’re looking to help the best-paid police force in the state with down payments for housing, we’re putting a bandaid on the problem.

The issue Missoula faces is that people who make the median income can not afford to buy a home. We’ve got plenty of agencies that help people get a home, but if you make more than 80% of the median income, you are SOL.

The reality is that if you make less than 80% of the median income you can head to any one of the multiple housing agencies and seek assistance and end up with housing that is costing you approximately 1/3 of your gross income. If you make more than 80% of the median income, you’re putting 50- 60% (or more) of your gross income into housing – and you’re on your own.

Missoula needs to be safe and provide those essential services like police, etc. – but we also need to ensure economic viability. In order to do that, we’ve got to ensure housing for more than just police officers.

It’s time for the discussion. Let’s not put it off for 2 years or 4 years or whatever – time’s a-wastin’.

(I want to thank Bob Jaffe for the listserv. It provides a valuable service to the community, providing us with insight to the workings and discussion of committee meetings held each Wednesday during the day. By citing Bob’s listserve, I am not implying that he is solely or in any way responsible for the issues discussed. He’s reporting them for us, and that is a very, very good thing.)

by Ed Childers

Affordable housing. Save the north hills. Save the south hills. Save the farmland. Protect my neighborhood. Give me a place where I can live.

There may be some mix of people that makes for a good place to live. If I knew what it was, maybe I could do something to encourage it.

I know I’ve left something or someone out. I need some answers. Tell me what to do.Here’s a hypothetical mix of incomes.

10% not working/need complete subsidy.

20% barely making it, do menial work.

30% sort of making it, have places to live because they bought 15 years ago, have sort of not too bad jobs.

20% have those great incomes, either from jobs or retirements or whatever, that allow them to buy those 200,000-500,000 dollar houses you see getting built everywhere.

10% can get whatever they need. They may not want the rest of us living near them.

10% so rich they don’t need anything.

There’s 2% more people every year. They’re born here or move here.

The population ages 2% every year.

So there’s a hypothetical money mix. Fix the mix if you want, I don’t care and for my purposes it probably doesn’t matter. The question I’m asking are, Should all these people have places to live? and, Where or what should they be?

by jhwygirl

Plum Creek Timberlands is the largest private landowner in Missoula County. It is, in fact, the largest private landowner in the United States.

In Maine, Plum Creek has undertaken a plan to rezone 408,000 acres of land around Moosehead Lake. The Boston Herald – in a piece perhaps appropriately titled “Is this any placed to build a home?” – details some of the high points: protection of some 380,000 acres of land (the original proposal was to conserve 10,000 acres of land), including some 160 miles of shoreline and support by The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Society of Maine.

Locally, Plum Creek has been an important part of the Blackfoot Challenge. The Nature Conservancy of Montana has purchased a huge amount of land from Plum Creek – at least 68,000 so far – placing conservation easements on them, and then reselling and trading the lands, in an ambitious program with the goal of preserving the natural resources of the Blackfoot River valley.

All of that is good stuff. What concerns me is the lack of zoning in the county, which is apparently not the case with the situation in Maine. I’m not able to discern the actual structure and authority of the regulatory body – I’m thinking it is a state Land Use Regulation Commission – but what is clear is that there is actually a regulatory authority over development. Something that is lacking here in Missoula for the greater part of the county.

When (not if) Plum Creek decides to do exactly the type of thing it has proposed in Maine, local regulations are not in place to reign in any plans. Plum Creek is currently selling lands – that’s no secret – just pick up any Montana Land Magazine at your local realtor’s office. Plenty of whole and half sections of lands are for sale. Best bet is that more than half of those are Plum Creek lands.

From Monday’s Portland Press Herald is this tidbit (sorry, no linky that I could find):

Bill Townsend, a resident of Canaan and former member of the commission, said the board has a huge job ahead.

”We have known for 50 years that this day was going to come … and that is why, more than 40 years ago, the effort started to create the Land Use Regulation Commission,” he said.

So Maine is a bit ahead of the curve?

So I ask you Missoula – What are WE waiting for? The best insurance we have, for now, is that land prices are sinking. Maybe that will continue. Maybe it will mean that more people will come in and buy up land at bargain prices – not like Montana is going to get unattractive to those out-of-stater’s, is it?

Especially with no zoning.

It seems to me that Missoula is ripe for the kind of discussion that needs to be had between both the City Council and the Board of County Commissioners. A discussion about GROWTH and SPRAWL and TRANSPORTATION and AFFORDABLE HOUSING. A discussion of what we want to be in 20 years, in 30 years…in 50 years.

Do we want to look back on today, sometime in the future, and think “coulda, woulda, shoulda?”

by jhwygirl

I came across an article in an architectural periodical today as I sat in a waiting room. Got me thinking, so I went googling – you know me and affordable housing. Consider the numbers below as some food for thought.

Average size and cost of an American home:

1950 – 983 square feet/$14,500

1970 – 1,400 square feet/$26,600

1973 – 1500 square feet/$32,500

1974 – 1,695 square feet/$34,900

1984- 1,780 square feet/$227,000

2004 – 2,330 square feet/$274,500

2005 – 2,434 square feet/$297,000

Average bedroom size today – 12 x 12

Average bedroom size 30 years ago – 9 x 10

Average family size today – 2.6

Average family size 30 years ago – 3.1

If anyone wants to bother factoring in inflation, that’d be interesting.

by jhwygirl

Why would a community that already has a lack of affordable housing for its median wage households ($54,500/year for a household of 4) welcome a resort that will make few rich and increase the demand for minimum wage workers? Seasonally?

What will that do to the small businesses in the valley that rely on minimum wage employees?

I guess we need to all resign ourselves to inclusionary housing regulations – ‘cause that’s what happened in Vail and Aspen, and Jackson Hole.

Whitefish and Kalispell are working on the same. Bozeman too, as I hear it.

Yep, let’s sit on by and watch the high-paying wages of Stimson go bye-bye, and instead let’s have the Missoula Area Economic Development Corporation (MAEDC) help fund slanted economic studies to tell us what we already know – that we’ll get lots of expensive homes and 1000’s of seasonal minimum wage jobs.

To be fair – that study was privately funded too – and my guess is that the better part of the $ for that study came from hopeful developer Tom Maclay himself.

More misguided economic development. Lovely.

by jhwygirl

In a short brief today, KPAX reguritates Stimson’s allegations that they “have no timber.”

Is there not one – even one? – news agency that will question the truth to that claim?

There are no where near the number of lumber mills that there were decades ago – so while there is certainly less trees being cut that there was in the early 1900’s, there are still trees being cut – anyone can see even the nominal amount that private landowners and agencies allow you to see along the highway – but think about the stuff beyond that view that it cut. Annually. Who is left to process it?

Plain and simple – to accept that Stimson has no lumber purely because they say so is wrong. It is lazy, frankly. There are private and large landowners that cut their lands. There is the Federal Government – including BLM and the USFS – and there is the State. Has any news agency gone to the large landowners (Plum Creek Timber comes to mind, plus some larger ranches) or the BLM or USFS or the State to see what – if any – sales that Stimson has put in on in the last 3 years or so (since they began laying people off saying they didn’t have any timber)? Has any news agency looked at how competitively Stimson actually pursued actual tree sales? Has any news agency looked into who got the sales that Stimson – if they even went for them – didn’t get?

At least look for the truth. Isn’t that what news reporting is about? Or at least supposed to be about?

{sigh} I guess Stimson is going to do what it is going to do and people are just going to sit by and not try to save and industry that supports not only the 125 or so people that it still employs, but the multiple industries that it supports in periphery to its operations. Guess it’s all Burger Kings and Walmarts. The bottom of the economic food chain, as it were. Yee haw!

The KPAX news piece details the plans of the Missoula businessman and developer Scott Cooney who is hoping to purchase the entire Stimson site, with hopes for developing “affordable housing and stores like L.L. Bean and Cabella’s.”

Cooney also recently announced his purchase of 16 acres of Stimson land south of the ballfield in Bonner, which includes the row of “company houses” and the credit union. His purchase also included 133 acres across the river from the mill site.

(Did someone just say Cabella’s? In Missoula?)

But seriously.

Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

Seems the County Commissioner’s unanimously denied a secondly attempted subdivision near Clearwater Junction in the Blanchard Creek area.

The first attempt was 119 lots on 202 acres – this most recent 59 lots on the same.

Now, a ‘kudos’ has to go out to the fairly new Rural Initiatives division of Office of Planning & Grants. With the addition of wildlife biologist Vickie Edwards, the review of natural resource impacts and wildlife issues stands on much firmer ground with the input of someone with training and expertise. And the affects are seen with this denial.

The proposed development – the applicant is still contemplating another try – has 5 threatened or endangered species within a 5-mile radius of its location.

The developer’s solution to this was to build an 8-foot electrified wall around the development.

Nice. Welcome to the neighborhood, I guess.

Now, aside from that and other issues (like that which this summer’s Jocko Lake fire brings to mind, density so far from services, and that little thing called “fire protection”), I began to ponder this today: There are those (see here and here for some discussion in that regards) who slam any mention of inclusionary housing as a solution to the affordable housing problem facing people making up to and slightly beyond the median income here in Missoula (and other parts of this state). They defending the developer’s right to make any darn amount of profit that they may – regardless of how much.

I believe, on the other hand, that:

(#1) Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing development through reduced permitting fees for subdivision.

(#2) Affordable housing provides economic stability which benefits the whole community.

(#3) That accepting the concept that taxpayers should subsidize development while decrying the idea that developers should be required to sell a small percentage of their homes at prices that are affordable to people who make 80 – 100% of the median income is absurd.

And finally, (#4) Location, Location, Location: Missoula isn’t going to see anything more than a small “pop” in the housing market bubble. Real small. That is a fact (you can google that for yourself), same as has been exhibited in other places like Aspen, Vail, Whitefish, Jackson Hole. The natural amenities, combined with unnatural amenities (like airports, highways, localized infrastructure and shopping and entertainment) will continue to be driving forces in the housing market far more than any economic downturns in the housing industry.

So while others seem to want to ignore the problem at hand (or at least cover their ears and sing “la, la, la, la, la”) and champion the right-to-profit of the almighty developer, I have to question how much profit is enough profit.

Especially when a developer can first propose 119 lots. Then 59 lots. And then contemplate even another submittal, with presumably even less lots.

And I seriously doubt that the lot prices more than doubled. Market is what market it – his lot prices were undoubtedly based on size of the lots, not cost-profit margins.

by jhwygirl

In a recent post on affordable housing – a rising crisis we face here in Missoula – Vice-Chair of the Missoula GOP and former candidate for House District 97 (I remember those lovely blue signs around the neighborhood – the ones that didn’t mention her party affiliation) offers her solution to a 30-year old public school teacher who can’t afford the rent in the city where she works.

Clue: Get a husband with a job, then have the kids, and live somewhere other than The City.

Nice. Now there are about 10 different things wrong with that solution, but I’ll only snipe at one: I don’t know that it is really in the best interests of the community and its children to have their teachers commuting in from other communities. I know I want my schoolteachers living in my neighborhood.

Now Missoulapolis has also come down firmly against (no surprises there) inclusionary housing. She comments in her solution-to-affordable-housing post:

I have a cousin who is an ESL teacher there and she make it only because she’s in an old rent-controlled unit and she hangs on for dear life. But the control mechanism distorts the market beyond all manageability so it’s no wonder a teacher can’t get her own place there now. The more the govt tries to manipulate the problem the worse it gets.

What conservatives don’t seem to get is that the market is already screwed. Filled with speculators – she’s even acknowledged this in another previous post – that artificially manipulate the market.

But I guess it’s OK for the private market sector to artificially manipulate the market.

Further – inclusionary housing isn’t meant to manipulate the market – it’s meant to provide economic stability and certainty to the community. The market is already screwed. And in places where it’s done, the market has been screwed for a long, long time, with no signs of reversal. It is not a knee-jerk reaction or a quick solution to a recent problem.

Mark Tokarski, a fellow curmudgeon and contributor to Montana Netroots and frequent blog commentor places this comment at an unrelated (but excellent) post of Shane Mason’s on healthcare. Just substitute the principle of healthcare for affordable housing, and Mark precisely says what I’m trying to say:

Market-based solutions are a joke, since it is the market that got us into this mess. (The market by its very definition has to avoid sick people.)

Mark and I, BTW, rarely agree.

Areas that have done it, such as Vail, Aspen and Jackson Hole – and areas that are considering it – like Whitefish – are doing it to ensure that there are enough employees around to keep business and government up and running with warm bodies. And also to help avoid having to pay policemen and teachers $100,000 a year and dishwashers $25.00 an hour. You don’t have to be an Einstein to figure out what $100,000/year teachers will do to your taxes or what $25.00/hour dishwashers will do to your restaurant bill.

Missoulapolis is also against sprawl and infill – or maybe not….her blog is filled with pieces (lately, it seems) on housing, affordable housing, real estate (boom or bust?), new subdivisions, etc. In one piece she laments the “gash on the mountain above Farviews” but in another posts she seemingly champions the $59,000 – .29 acre lots adjacent to her self-proclaimed Casa del Minjares, (as an example, perhaps, of the wealth of affordable housing opportunities available in Missoula?)

What I do see is someone who offers no solution and no insight to an issue that is very real here in Missoula.

There are many ways to get about to dealing with the problems of affordable housing – inclusionary housing, infill, and yes, in some areas willing to accept traffic and poor air quality and higher taxes – sprawl. The solution, hopefully, should be something the community should come together with…and the longer it waits, the more drastic the solution.

Missoulapolis, oddly enough, self-describes herself as a blogger with “social-con tendencies.” Shouldn’t that come with some omnipotent solution? A solution of all solutions?

And I ponder how we – people like Missoulapolis and I – can come together with the beginnings of a solution to the problem. Myself, I’d rather avoid the drastic solution – but sitting around badmouthing every possible ‘tool’ while offering nothing of substance isn’t the way to do it.


by Pete Talbot

How do you control Missoula’s rampant growth?

You could try strict zoning and subdivision regulations. You could limit the number of building permits. You could tie growth to the city’s carrying capacity (water, sewer, roads, etc.).

But all that gets kind of messy, with lots of meetings and controversy, and it will take many years to accomplish.

My solution? Post the above picture on the Chamber of Commerce home page. Plaster this image on the cover of slick Montana Living-type magazines. Make sure it’s the lead photo for the City of Missoula’s website. Put in on the front page of all real estate brochures. You get my drift.

Substitute all those warm, fuzzy shots of Farmers Market, Riverfront Park, UM and the like with a nice Stage 1 air alert photo.

I guaranty that home prices will drop — affordable housing will no longer be an issue. Traffic on Reserve Street and Mullan Road will become a trickle. There’ll be fewer developers, contractors and realtors. You can say goodbye to those crowds at Out-to-Lunch and Missoula’s First Friday events.

Just a thought.

This photo of Missoula was taken from Waterworks Hill on Monday afternoon, August 13, 2007. 

by jhwygirl

Held in the Public Works Committee, from the July 25th meeting, is the recommendation by the City Engineering department to sell two properties that were acquired as part of the right-of-way for the recently completed England Boulevard extension.

The two properties are now 100 feet long by 47 feet in depth,having lost 53 feet to the new road.

The sale of these two parcels is being held because councilman Jerry Ballas – with a concurring agreement from Ward 2’s Bob Jaffe – think that looking into the possibility of utilizing the parcels for affordable housing is worthwhile.

Bravo to both of them.

The two properties are sandwiched between the Grant Creek Town Center (the shopping centers directly across from Lowes and Costco) and Pleasantview subdivision – in an area with some county zoned parcels (commercial and rural residential – yep, rural residential III) and mobile homes.

The problem as I see it is that the R-IV zoning – which allows for residential and even multi-family residential – has setbacks that will take up most of the depth of the property – a minimum of 20 feet for the front setback and a rear yard setback of 20 feet. That leaves a 7 foot wide buildable area. That’s not going to work.

Maybe I read that wrong. Here’s what the city zoning code says for front and rear setbacks in the R-IV zone:

19.40.030 Front yard. There shall be a front yard having a depth of not less than twenty (20)
feet. However, where there are lots comprising forty (40) percent or more of the frontage developed with buildings between cross streets, having an average front yard with a variation in depth of not more than six (6) feet, no building hereafter erected or altered shall project beyond the front yard line so established; provided further, that this regulation shall not require a front yard of more than thirty (30) feet in depth.
19.40.040 Rear yard. There shall be a rear yard having a depth of not less than twenty (20) feet.


Perhaps the solution would be to rezone the property first, to a commercial zoning, and then sell the property to a housing agency that could build something that would utilize the first floor for small commercial or professional offices, and then the top floors for residential. At 100 feet in length, it could allow for a decent size building.

Exemptions in the city zoning code allow for commercial setbacks when residential is combined with commercial uses.

Further, it might be good to dedicate a ROW right through the center of the two lots – where the side yards meet – to allow for easier parking access to the rear without more of the lot having to be eaten up for each lot to gain access to the rear? Encouraging the buildings to keep to the front street and placing the parking in the rear? Have one shared drive?

The location seems conducive to a commercial rezoning – a large corridor within a shouting distance of existing commercial and county commercial to the west.

I didn’t get to the comprehensive plan maps, but I can leave that to the professionals, no?

All of this – even holding up the sale to explore utilizing the parcels for affordable housing – takes extra time. Kudos to those who are willing to do that and try and make more affordable housing happen.

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