Missoula, You Cannot Have It All

by William Skink

Missoula’s political leadership likes to pretend we can have everything. We can have more open spaces, more development, more tech-sector investment, and more affordable housing. The problem? The problem is reality, and the reality is that no, we cannot have everything we want.

Last May I wrote about a new euphemism for gentrification, called an opportunity zone. These opportunity zones were a result of the Trump tax cut legislation, which snuck this little provision in the bill to provide “…an incentive for people to reinvest capital gains into low-income areas and thereby avoid the capital gains tax.

The Missoula Current has a new article up about a completely hypothetical use of this opportunity zone, reporting that it “could” include affordable housing, but the reality is the city won’t have any say beyond normal regulatory authority to determine what the private sector will be able to do with their redirected capital gains:

A new investment tool included in last year’s tax bill could bring affordable housing and commercial development to Missoula’s West Broadway corridor and areas to the north.

The census tract was identified by the state as a so-called opportunity zone – a new incentive adopted by Congress that allows taxpayers to invest in a qualified opportunity fund and defer tax payments on capital gains.

“The city can encourage through goal setting and visioning what we’d like to see in that area, but ultimately, it’s a completely private tool,” said Eran Pehan, manager of the city’s Office on Housing and Community Development.

What I suspect will happen in this zone is there will be private sector investment, but not to build affordable housing. Instead nasty motels like The Colonial and the Sleepy Inn will be razed to the ground and the housing these motels provided won’t be replaced.

Gentrification is also knocking on the threshold of the Hip Strip, with the owners of the Montaignes looking at a total overhaul of their historic property, which is apparently a mess. This will be another loss to the stock of affordable housing in Missoula.

And Midtown is also getting some attention for possible master planning:

City leaders have sat down with a group of property owners to begin discussing the possibility of master planning a multi-block section of Midtown as efforts to reinvent the district intensify, Mayor John Engen said.

While rumors of a potential move by at least one major business in the district couldn’t be confirmed, Engen did say that several property owners have turned to the city to discuss the area’s potential, and what could be achieved with planning.

“They have expressed interest in having the Missoula Redevelopment Agency work with them on some master planning and a little dreaming about what could be,” Engen told the Missoula Current. “We’ve had property owners of significant parcels and folks interested at the table.”

Meanwhile, for those at risk of dying for lack of shelter, Missoula’s City Council is going to have to show up on the Friday after Thanksgiving in order to expedite an “Interim Zoning Ordinance” in order to allow the Salvation Army to keep people from dying of exposure. For some on City Council, it’s apparently annoying to be asked to do this on such short notice.

I guess this cold weather Montana thing kinda snuck up on them, despite last February the Poverello Center explicitly stating there are limits to how many people they can shelter.

If homelessness was actually a priority for our city leaders, they wouldn’t be surprised that the dire situation of last winter has not been addressed in the slightest.

I’ve been writing about this continued failure to prioritize the needed planning/funding because I see the lack of preparation. I literally wrote a post in August titled What will happen to Missoula’s Chronic homeless population when it gets cold?

So it pisses me off to read this:

Councilman Bryan von Lossberg said the request came in only on Friday, so he was surprised that city staff was able to put the ordinance together so quickly that it could be introduced Wednesday.

“Taking no action puts lives at risk,” von Lossberg said.

Normally, the City Council would have to wait until Nov. 26 to approve the interim ordinance because public hearings must be announced seven days in advance. Since the announcement goes out Thursday, the end of a seven-day period lands right on the Thanksgiving holiday.

Temperatures are soon predicted to drop into the teens, so Councilwoman Julie Armstrong asked if anything could be to speed up approval. Since the seven-day notice is required by law, Armstrong asked how many might be available at 3 p.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Seven council members raised their hands, enough to approve the temporary action.

Having done what they could to address the urgency, some council members said the proposal for next winter should be made earlier.

How about instead of city leaders condescending to the overwhelmed service providers on the front lines that they should ask for zoning ordinance changes earlier, you elected civic leaders of our community ADDRESS THE FUCKING PROBLEM?

I would love to see more time and resources directed toward plugging the gaping holes in the support net and less time and resources directed toward turning this valley into a crammed, congested inland silicon valley.

But I’m not holding my breath.

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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1 Response to Missoula, You Cannot Have It All

  1. Pingback: What Will Missoula Get With Trump’s Opportunity Zone? | Reptile Dysfunction

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