by William Skink
The Indy this week has a really interesting article about how Bozeman screwed the pooch on housing affordability. The warning for Missoula is obvious, but the comparison made is more than a little bit generous:
The Garden City does have its advantages. While staff turnover has dogged the administration of Bozeman’s affordability program, the city of Missoula has had a dedicated housing director, former Poverello Center director Eran Pehan, since 2016. And Missoula does have active “production builders” putting $230,000 homes on the market, according to Werwath, thus hitting price points that Bozeman struggled to accomplish with its incentives program.
Missoula’s political dynamics may be more amenable to effective action on housing, as well. While a number of Werwath’s recommendations for Missoula involve better coordination between city and county governments — for instance, developing a joint annexation policy to help determine where new housing will be built — that sort of collaboration has been a challenge for the Bozeman area, where a conservative county commission routinely butts heads with more progressive city leaders. At the Realtor-organized event last month, Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss, a Democrat, was onstage.
Additionally, a single nonprofit in Bozeman, HRDC of District IX, handles everything from low-income housing development to a seasonal homeless shelter and a homebuyer education program. Missoula, in contrast, has several major agencies in the housing space, including the Missoula Housing Authority and Homeword.
I’m sure Missoula officials appreciate the effort to positively contrast Missoula with Bozeman, but I just don’t see the advantages touted above as directly leading to more effective interventions in the affordability crisis Missoula has been experiencing for years.
The development that is happening–some primed with TIF money that should be benefiting the public–is NOT benefiting the public. Just look at the extortion-like threat of blight the Lambros clan was able to use to leverage 7 million bucks to sweeten their re-envisioning of the sprawling Southgate mall property. After securing the money and starting a myriad of projects, Lambros sold out to an Ohio conglomerate for a cool 58 million bucks.
This is just one glaring example of Missoula’s political leadership bending over backwards to help a type of development in Missoula that will not do a damn things to impact the affordability of housing. Hotels, convention centers and now a new ice rink WILL NOT improve the affordability of housing. But that won’t stop Missoula leaders, oh no. They want shiny new things like that ice rink:
The county has already established 3 mills for the fairgrounds, which generate roughly $650,000 per year. But Bentley said the fairgrounds doesn’t want to spread that funding out over 20 years, and it’s looking to finance the property’s redevelopment sooner rather than later.
Some projects, including a new Glacier Ice Rink, would require additional public and private funding, and commissioners have already said that users of the ice rink must contribute to the project’s cost.
How much hasn’t been said, though the county will consider creating a special district later this month.
Missoula is not just in the midst of a housing crisis. We are also experiencing the consequences of Montana’s budget crisis. So while case managers are fired left and right, while the elderly surviving on Medicaid face brutal, cruel cuts, our city leaders are looking for ways to use public money for a fucking ice rink.
And while the poor and vulnerable in Montana face increasing hardship, our Governor is gallivanting around Iowa to test the waters for a presidential run.
This stubborn inability to change priorities will hurt tens of thousands of Montanans. The east coast transplants who can actually afford to live here and send their kids to fancy international schools don’t seem to give a shit, and while we get lip-service from our city leadership, when it comes to action, developers win and the poor keep losing.
Missoula needs to be more honest about its priorities. I think Missoula owes it to would-be poor people thinking of moving to Missoula to come clean and state outright–maybe in a large billboard on I-90–the reality here. It can be a simple message.
Dear poor people, you are not welcome in Missoula, so go somewhere else.