Housing Refugees Amidst Skyrocketing Home Prices in Missoula

by William Skink

When the effort to resettle refugees in Missoula got international attention earlier this month from the BBC, this is how the opening paragraphs framed the opposition:

“ISIS will come for our women”. That’s how one resident expressed his fears about the proposed settling of refugees in the US state of Montana.

Around 100 refugees could be moving to the American West thanks to a local group in Missoula who were inspired to help after seeing the photo of a drowned Syrian boy whose family had fled the conflict.

But people in the neighbouring rural county are not happy. A local politician told the BBC they want a guarantee refugees will not be a threat – and he warned of a culture clash between any Muslim refugees from Syria and the predominantly white local population.

The dynamic being set up is pretty obvious: stupid, ignorant yokels from the rural margins of Missoula saying stupid shit like the opening quote versus inspired empaths rising to save Syrian toddlers from certain death.

I have written about my perspective on this issue many times now, mostly contrasting the liberal do-gooders desire to save the world one refugee at a time with the reality of failing systems unable to meet the need that already exists in our community.

On Facebook, I have even been that asshole who shares this perspective by providing contrasting comments on posts gushing with that self-congratulatory adulation over the perception that Missoula is such a welcoming and amazing place (within city limits, of course, where that rural ignorance is kept at bay with liberal righteousness)

When I mention scarce resources for the disadvantaged already struggling in our community, I am told all the funding is from different pools and will have no negative impact. But the one resource that supporters of bringing 100 refugees a year to Missoula don’t have an adequate retort for is one of the most crucial: housing.

In the Missoulian today there is an article describing the “skyrocketing” price of housing as “unprecedented”. From the link:

The skyrocketing prices of homes in Missoula this year have even long-time real estate agents shaking their heads in disbelief.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Brint Wahlberg of Windermere Real Estate. “It’s truly an unprecedented market.

“I’ve been in the business 16 years, my mom has been in the industry 36 years. We’ve never seen a market where sellers have such an advantage to drive sales price and terms of sale and everything because there’s such a lack of supply inventory and a lack of affordable new construction.”

Over just the last eight months, the median sale price of homes in the Missoula urban area have surged up 4 percent from $239,500 to the current price of $249,900. That’s a jump of over $10,000 since the end of last year and a $53,000 increase since 2011.

The article goes on to describe immediate bidding wars over new listings, frustrated buyers who miss out if they have to wait until after work to do a walkthrough (the house already going under contract before the end of the work day), and buyers giving up to return to a rental market the article put at operating with a 3% vacancy rate, down from the 4.9% vacancy rate cited in an article about housing earlier this year.

Here is more from the article:

The affordability gap has been growing in Missoula. From From 2012 to 2016, the median price of a home in Missoula rose from $209,700 to $249,900. However, the median income for a single person has stagnated right around $44,000 and actually decreased last year.

As of Aug. 5, there were just 339 active residential listings in the Missoula urban area and 602 in the county. In July alone, the median sale price of the 128 homes sold in the Missoula area was $268,000, so there doesn’t appear to be any deceleration of the climbing prices.

Wahlberg said that it’s a simple math problem: People in Missoula don’t make enough money to afford housing.

For the refugee resettlement crusaders, the housing situation in Missoula represents a potential flashpoint of frustration that isn’t fueled by ISIS IS COMING FOR OUR WOMENFOLK!!! With supply this tight and demand so significant, making competition for housing so fierce, there is simply no way for the white saviors of war refugees to wiggle out of the reality that relocating 100 people a year into this housing situation will only make things more difficult for people trying to buy a house in Missoula.

Missoula isn’t the only place experiencing skyrocketing housing prices. There is an interesting resignation letter from a city official in Palo Alto who cites the price of housing as the reason she is moving her family away.  Read the whole letter below the jump.

Dear City Council Members and Palo Alto Residents,

This letter serves as my official resignation from the Planning and Transportation Commission. My family has decided to move to Santa Cruz. After many years of trying to make it work in Palo Alto, my husband and I cannot see a way to stay in Palo Alto and raise a family here. We rent our current home with another couple for $6200 a month; if we wanted to buy the same home and share it with children and not roommates, it would cost $2.7M and our monthly payment would be $12,177 a month in mortgage, taxes, and insurance. That’s $146,127 per year — an entire professional’s income before taxes. This is unaffordable even for an attorney and a software engineer.

It’s clear that if professionals like me cannot raise a family here, then all of our teachers, first responders, and service workers are in dire straits. We already see openings at our police department that we can’t fill and numerous teacher contracts that we can’t renew because the cost of housing is astronomical not just in Palo Alto but many miles in each direction. I have repeatedly made recommendations to the Council to expand the housing supply in Palo Alto so that together with our neighboring cities who are already adding housing, we can start to make a dent in the jobs-housing imbalance that causes housing prices throughout the Bay Area to spiral out of control. Small steps like allowing 2 floors of housing instead of 1 in mixed use developments, enforcing minimum density requirements so that developers build apartments instead of penthouses, legalizing duplexes, easing restrictions on granny units, leveraging the residential parking permit program to experiment with housing for people who don’t want or need two cars, and allowing single-use areas like the Stanford shopping center to add housing on top of shops (or offices), would go a long way in adding desperately needed housing units while maintaining the character of our neighborhoods and preserving historic structures throughout.

Time and again, I’ve seen dozens of people come to both Commission meetings and Council meetings asking Council to make housing its top priority. The City Council received over 1000 signatures from Palo Alto residents asking for the same. In the annual Our Palo Alto survey, it is the top issue cited by residents. This Council has ignored the majority of residents and has charted a course for the next 15 years of this city’s development which substantially continues the same job-housing imbalance this community has been suffering from for some time now: more offices, a nominal amount of housing which the Council is already laying the groundwork to tax out of existence, lip service to preserving retail that simply has no reason to keep serving the average Joe when the city is only affordable to Joe Millionaires.

Over the last 5 years I’ve seen dozens of my friends leave Palo Alto and often leave the Bay Area entirely. I’ve seen friends from other states get job offers here and then turn them down when they started to look at the price of housing. I struggle to think what Palo Alto will become and what it will represent when young families have no hope of ever putting down roots here, and meanwhile the community is engulfed with middle-aged jet-setting executives and investors who are hardly the sort to be personally volunteering for neighborhood block parties, earthquake preparedness responsibilities, or neighborhood watch. If things keep going as they are, yes, Palo Alto’s streets will look just as they did decades ago, but its inhabitants, spirit, and sense of community will be unrecognizable. A once thriving city will turn into a hollowed out museum. We should take care to remember that Palo Alto is famous the world over for its residents’ accomplishments, but none of those people would be able to live in Palo Alto were they starting out today.


Kate Downing

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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