by William Skink
In order to be more “intentional” with housing policies Missoula has done quite a lot over the last few years. A steering committee was formed in 2017 to develop a comprehensive policy approach and an entire office of housing was created. It took years to develop these policies, and all that work was finally presented in June of 2019.
I mention this recent history because I’m confused by a Missoula Current article. The title of the article is where my confusion starts: City of Missoula embarks on review of subdivision, townhome policies.
Let me get this straight. Missoula’s housing policies were studied closely by multiple people and agencies for years, and the results were finally presented in 2019, but all that work wasn’t enough to address the problems with subdivision and townhome policies? Why not?
When you get into the article, the office of housing isn’t even mentioned. Instead there are more consultants being paid to study these policies:
Efforts to update the city’s subdivision and townhome policies touched on affordable housing Wednesday, along with the regulatory barriers that drive up development costs and hinder the supply of residential construction.
Working with consultants, the city will receive the recommended policy changes by September and take any fixes required at the state level to the Legislature next year.
Instead of Dover and Kohl getting the consulting gig (they are busy studying what to do with the Sleepy Inn), a company called Design Workshop is doing the work I thought had already been done in the three years it took to develop Missoula’s “comprehensive” housing policies. Here’s more from the article:
A survey conducted by the consultants, Design Workshop, found a number of issues in the city’s subdivision and Townhome Exemption Development (TED) review processes that could be improved.
The responses included reducing barriers to new supply, promoting access to affordable homes and simplifying the development process. They also included more predictability and cutting the time it takes to get a project reviewed.
Why the hell is another survey being done? Seriously, isn’t this just a duplication of all the work that was already accomplished? Why does our elected brain trust need another consulting firm to conduct more surveys to arrive at the same goddamn conclusions the previous YEARS of studying these issues produced?
The problem that City Council is now trying to fix is the disparity between an onerous subdivision review process and a somewhat less onerous townhome review process. Because building townhomes comes with less red tape, that is what some developers have been building, but City Council screwed that up last year as they muddled through a particularly large townhome project:
One development spent more than a year under City Council review. The result left members of the public, the developers and council members frustrated with the process.
“There seems to be a sentiment, right or wrong, that going through TED was easier than going through subdivision,” said council member Stacey Anderson. “It seems like people were trying to morph their round-hole subdivision project to fit the square peg of TED, which left us the council trying to shave off those edges to make the project work.”
So, because of problems from one development project, another out-of-state consulting firm will be paid more public money to study what should have already been studied to provide more recommendations for our elected brain trust to take to the state, where they will be ignored. Fantastic.
I said the housing office wasn’t mentioned in the article, but upon rereading the piece there is a brief reference at the end of the article that comes in response to Councilor Ramos pushing back on the “access to affordable housing” recommendation:
Council member Jesse Ramos questioned the value of going through another policy review with another consultant. He said the city had gone down this road before, though he agreed the points noted in the survey on areas needing attention were valid.
“At the end of the day, we have to be self honest and realize why a lot of these things (are on the list) is because we’re not addressing them,” said Ramos. “That’s why affordable housing is nonexistent in Missoula, because we have all these different areas and we’re paying God knows how much money for these consultants to tell us this.”
Ramos also prodded the survey’s suggestion that policy changes “promote access to affordable homes.” Whether that meant subsidized affordability or clearing the way for market-driven affordability wasn’t immediately answered.
“We’re going to take our guidance from the housing department more on that,” said Means. “With the housing policy in place, we’re looking forward to the refinement of definitions. As this process goes along, we can see what that looks like.”
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I sure am looking forward to the refinement of definitions. That sounds like some exciting shit. I better keep my poetry skills honed so I can help with this refinement.