by William Skink
WBUR in Boston is doing a series on midsize western cities and their struggles with housing, and wouldn’t you know it, Missoula is one of the communities they took a look at. Here is an admission that tech and urban flight are significant contributors to skyrocketing housing costs:
The tech sector is booming in Missoula, which has brought new residents and high-paying jobs, Pehan says. But that also means there are more people seeking housing faster than the city can build homes for them to live in.
“Also, folks who can come in and put down a cash offer pay above appraised value for a home,” she says, “and we’re seeing that inflate the market as it inflates appraisals for all the surrounding homes.”
Pehan, who grew up in Montana, says the state — and particularly the city of Missoula — has “changed dramatically” over the past few years. She chalks that up to the idea of “being found.”
“We are on the map as a place that provides just an exceptional quality of life,” Pehan says.
If Missoula is now officially found and development is booming, then why does the private sector need any public money to incentivize development? One of the main arguments with TIF and Urban Renewal Districts is that development wouldn’t happen without public investment. That argument is now gone.
Here’s a quote about urban flight:
The nature of work is also changing, which means people can live and work remotely in Missoula for a company based in a larger city like San Francisco, she says. But these workers are still being paid at a higher cost of living, giving them disposable income that they would otherwise have to spend on rent if they lived in San Francisco.
“I think that we’re seeing a lot of folks fleeing more urban environments to live in a place like Missoula,” Pehan says. “And while their work is not place based, their salary reflects that urban environment. And again, [that’s] something that is dramatically impacting our housing market.”
I agree with the use of the word “fleeing”, but then the question becomes what are they fleeing? One thing they are fleeing is west coast housing costs, which are significantly higher than Missoula’s, which of course makes Missoula a very attractive location for the inland migration set of remote workers.
Another aspect of housing in Missoula is the housing that’s being removed and the housing that replaces it. When you read the next quote, think of the recent vote by Missoula’s City Council to destroy historic houses in order to build condos. Here’s the quote:
Pehan says the city needs to evolve, but in a way that accommodates people of all income levels.
“The reality is, right now in Missoula, you are allowed to knock down a relatively small, affordable home and build a mansion,” she says. “All we’re saying is that in addition to being able to build a mansion, perhaps you should also be able to build a duplex or a tiny home to allow for some more affordable options as well.”
The ability to build duplexes or tiny homes instead of McMansions exists only if the bottomline exists for developers. That means to make housing affordable there has to be some kind of subsidy. That is really the only way affordable housing is going to be built because the Mayor’s office decided AGAINST inclusionary zoning.
At the end of the piece there is some nice perception management around the supposed working class spirit of Missoula:
“At the end of the day, Missoula prides itself in being a working-class community, and we want to maintain those working-class roots,” Pehan says. “In a town our size, that is significant and that moves the needle, and helps us to live our value of inclusivity.”
This is nothing but empty PR rhetoric. When you look at what our elected leaders are actually doing, like begging the state for the power to impose regressive sales taxes and giving 16.5 million to an out-of-state Wisconsin millionaire to help him consolidate his music venue empire, well, the “value of inclusivity” evaporates. The residue left behind is gentrification, income inequality and worsening homelessness.