Missoula struggles to solve affordable housing puzzle

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Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

In 2016, the median price of a home in Missoula increased 6.8 percent to a record high $255,000. More recent figures now place the average price as high as $270,000.

Missoula’s low median income and tight residential market have left many households paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a new Community Health Assessment released this week.

The study also found that home ownership in Missoula County has dropped 4 percent over the past 17 years. What’s more, the city’s aging population will need more living options, including homes that are easily navigated.

The issues are many and complex and have fallen under the purview of the city’s Office of Housing and Economic Development. Headed by Eran Pehan, the office and its newly minted steering committee expect to release policy recommendations next spring.

“We’ve recently established our housing steering committee to work on creating a housing policy and take that deep look into our local demographics, our consumer preferences and desirability,” Pehan said. “We’ll continue to meet in that forum and look at housing needs at all levels, and those targeted housing needs as well.”

In 2016, the median price of a house in Missoula increased 6.8 percent to a record high $255,000. More recent figures now place the average price as high as $270,000.

The city’s housing affordability, or lack of it, has been central to several recent economic presentations, with economists warning that the cost of housing compared to the average income could serve as an anchor on the local economy.

Pehan said the new housing task force is exploring ways to address affordability, though all housing types at all price points will play into the equation.

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“Our goal is to make sure all Missoulians have access to housing that’s affordable to them and meets their needs,” she said. “For some, that may be subsidized housing, while for others it may be first-time ownership opportunities or step-down housing that allows them to move out of their big ranch home into something that’s more manageable as they age.”

The number of Missoula residents over the age of 60 is on the rise and isn’t likely to slow down. The number of residents over 60 is projected to increase from 25,000 in 2015 to nearly 40,000 by 2040.

The Community Health Survey addresses that projection, calling for an increase in housing that meets “visitability standards,” or homes that enable the mobility impaired to navigate the structure.

As it stands, there is no way to measure the number of houses that meet visitability standards in Missoula County, but the survey found interest in developing data as a housing measure.

Pehan said it’s something the new office of housing and its task force have kept in mind as they look at all housing needs.

“We’re trying to look at all the demographics and ages so everyone in those groups has access to housing that’s affordable to them and meets their particular needs,” she said. “We hope to have recommendations to the community in the spring.”

This article originally appeared on Missoula Current, an independent online newspaper, of which Martin Kidston is the founding editor.

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