by William Skink
When it comes to the skyrocketing costs of housing, Missoula’s elected braintrust likes to feign impotence with their specious claim that they lack “the tools” to address the problem because the state of Montana won’t enable them to levy more taxes, like a sales tax.
This line of bullshit is implied in the title of one of two Missoula Current articles on this topic: Housing issues mount in Missoula as costs rise; city looks to Legislature for help. But before we get to the article, let me explain why I don’t expect the Legislature to help Missoula with its housing crisis.
In order to make my point, I’m going to use the analogy of an individual going to a bank to get a loan. In this analogy the individual is Missoula and the bank is the state of Montana.
Missoula arrives at the bank in its brand new zero-emission vehicle and our dear leader, with his excellent health coverage, gets out, ready to make his pitch. Riding shotgun is the Queen of Gentrification, Ellen Buchanan.
In the meeting, our dear leader sets the dire scene for the bank agent. Missoula’s housing crisis IS GETTING WORSE and we DON’T HAVE THE TOOLS to do what’s NEEDED.
The bank agent remains unmoved by this emotional appeal and waits for our dear leader to finish. After describing the impending housing apocalypse, our dear leader takes a breath and waits. The agent speaks.
AGENT: So, you NEED our help because you don’t have enough tax revenue to do what’s required, is that what you’re telling me?
DEAR LEADER: Yes, and if we don’t act fast, people will die.
AGENT: But you had enough money for new parks and a new school, right? And you had enough money for a new library, right? And you have enough money to buy open space, and to buy zero-emission vehicles, and you were going to give 16 million dollars to Nick Checota to build an event center, but NOW YOU ARE COMING TO US FOR HELP?
DEAR LEADER: But COVID! It’s all because of COVID, COVID, COVID!!! If it wasn’t for Covid we would have solved homelessness and everyone would be happy and life would be perfect!
AGENT: Sorry, giving you more taxing power would be like making a pedophile the head of the school board.
While the above scene is fictional, a similar scene played out earlier this week when members of the public made their appeal to City Council to take more action as housing costs spiral out of control. Making excuses for our enlightened braintrust, here is the angry and defensive Gwen Jones:
“I am hoping there is outreach to the legislators for the upcoming legislative session, because frankly, there are so many intertwined issues between local and state government on these issues,” council member Gwen Jones said. “ Tax reform is really hard, but the State of Montana needs to take a hard look at it, because we’re butting up against some walls here in Missoula. If they give us the tools, we can do a heck of a lot more at the local level.”
City Council president Bryan von Lossberg echoed Jones, saying they need to meet up with state legislators for statewide solutions, as other metropolitan areas in Montana are likely facing similar issues with the rise in out-of-state residents moving into Montana.
I doubt our elected braintrust actually expects the state of Montana to help us with our housing crisis because all those terrible Republicans who won their elections have no reason to assist a town that literally can’t stop itself from peddling millions of dollars in bonds for wishlist projects like the fairgrounds.
Instead the Missoula Current is running an article on the possibility of Joe Biden coming in to save the day:
Urging Congress to pass rental assistance legislation before lawmakers recess for Christmas break, the report estimates the downstream public costs of a wave of evictions would be $62 to $129 billion.
That includes emergency shelter for the displaced; medical care, as the stress of homelessness aggravates their medical conditions or leads to Covid-19 infections; foster care of children removed from their parents; and juvenile detention costs, as homeless children are more likely to be arrested.
Biden wants to help renters stay in their homes. A former public defender, the president-elect says he’ll push for passage of the Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act, which would help tenants get lawyers for eviction cases and encourage local governments to start eviction diversion programs.
While good liberals wait for their liberal savior to save them, Missoula liberals are building outdoor homeless camps that one homeless man says he won’t use.
I’d like to commend NBC Montana’s Madison Doner for actually going to the Reserve Street camps enough times to provide this perspective from an actual resident of the encampment:
They call it a temporary safe outdoor space, but one long-term Reserve Street camp resident tells us why he thinks it won’t work.
“All you’re doing right now is putting the Poverello Center on a plot of land so people can stay there,” encampment resident Kevin Sandberg said.
Organizers disagree. “What we are doing is bringing together a legal provider and service rich environment for the folks that are going to have to remain unsheltered no matter what,” Ashley Corbally with Hope Rescue Mission said.
Sandberg says it’s a start but thinks only the newcomers will head there.
“It’s great they got property for the homeless people to go to, but I don’t know very many people that are on the island that will be going over there to you guys, I’m sorry to say,” said Sandberg.
Well, so much for relocating the Reserve Street campers. I wonder when the Health Department will start issuing fines to the Department of Transportation?
If Missoula wants the state of Montana to act like we are in a housing crisis, then it would help if our own elected braintrust started acting like it. They can do that by making housing Missoula’s NUMBER ONE PRIORITY and start implementing those policy suggestions Eran Pehan took 3 years to develop.
Or don’t, and we’ll see what happens.
If Missoula would quit electing left-wing wackos to the legislature the city might have some influence in the legislature. As it is, when your representatives are in the permanent minority there is little they can do.
I’d wager your idea of what constitutes “left-wing” is very limited.
Here are some questions I’ve been thinking of lately, and maybe if we’re lucky the TV station will try to answer some:
When was the Health Dept. going to start issuing those fines to MT DOT? I thought it was in November, which is a month ago. Does the county’s bark have any bite to it, or is it just talk?
What is the monthly cost to maintain the new homeless camp, specifically staff salaries and supplies. Is FEMA covering all of this, and does the county have that in writing? Bullock just cut covid funding to Missoula by millions. The same question goes for the new homeless warming shelter by the mall.
If FEMA doesn’t pay for the camp’s operational costs, who will?
The camp is designed to house 40 people, but what if it only has half of that…or can’t handle excess of that?
What is the city/county/DOT going to do when people don’t leave the Reserve Street Homeless Camp and keep living there, or just move a little ways up or down the river, or to the camp under the bridge near the new homeless camp, or the homeless camp behind Bob Wards, or the encampments along the Kim Williams Trail?
When is the Pov going to open full-time, allowing 150+ to stay there each night?
My sense is that now that there is a city/county run public facility with access to services, if that facility isn’t full it gives law enforcement the right to clear homeless people off the streets and do with them what they will — incarceration or bus tickets out of town. Once the city/county gained such a public facility, the effect of the recent 9th circuit court’s ruling guaranteeing the right of homeless people to camp on public land and/or in their vehicles on the street when no public facility is available is mooted. The city/county can now begin to enforce laws against sleeping in vehicles or camping in public spaces. This means they can clear the Reserve Street camp, or force the state to clear it whenever they choose. We’ll see what happens.
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