by William Skink
It’s sad reading this article about a 40-unit condo project proposed for the riverfront in the University district. Why is it sad? Because it highlights how the Engen regime has kept City Council impotent when it comes to requiring new development to include affordable housing. From the link:
Council member Heidi West asked about the possibility of including any affordable housing units in the project, but the engineer said the cost of land so close to downtown and the university made it hard to charge an affordable price for the condos.
Smith said the development would probably be about 25% rental units, with the rest sold as condos, and all of them priced at market rates.
“(The developers) are targeting empty-nesters looking to downsize from single family homes into a downtown setting,” he said. “This demographic is an important customer base for existing downtown restaurants, shops and services, and it furthers the ‘focus inward’ goals of the city’s growth policy.”
City Council is impotent because Engen’s Housing Office decided NOT to include an inclusionary zoning tool in its array of policy suggestions. Last June, Hermina Jean Harold, the executive director of Trust Montana and a community organizer for the North-Missoula Community Development Corporation, begged Council to learn the lessons of Bozeman and Whitefish:
Recently, the Missoula City Council was handed a slate of housing policy recommendations to review, and they have work to do before the June 24 vote. The policy recommendations are skewed in the direction of developer incentives. These types of incentives largely failed when Bozeman and Whitefish tried them. Both cities have now switched over to mandatory inclusionary zoning policies.
We don’t have the luxury of time to wait and see if the incentives work and then change course. A University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research study from 2018 reported that when median wages are compared to median home prices, Missoula housing is already less affordable than Bozeman, Denver, Seattle, Portland and Miami.
I am asking our City Council and Missoula Redevelopment Agency to enact two regulatory policies to stop the displacement of working people: 1) mandatory inclusionary zoning and 2) Tax Increment Finance District affordability requirements.
Sadly, this common sense request fell on deaf ears. Had these tools been implemented, City Council would have more leverage when it comes to MRA-enabled development, like the Riverfront Triangle project, and other development, like this 40-unit condo project.
But Council doesn’t have these tools, so all they can do is ask impotent questions that developers will easily dismiss due to their bottom line being more important than anything else.
And that, Missoula, is by design.