Missoula County’s Movement Toward A Housing Plan

by Travis Mateer

Last June a Portland-based company called EcoNorthwest got $30,000 from Missoula County to develop a housing plan. Six months later, the Missoula Current has an article describing what this money has produced:

Contracted by the county to explore solutions, ECONorthwest has presented the outline of what could become the county’s first housing strategy. Dubbed “Breaking Ground,” it explores the issues that have contributed to rapidly rising prices and the tools that could help address them.

So, after six months and thirty grand, EcoNorthwest has produced an OUTLINE that “could become” the county’s first housing strategy. How exciting!

Because this Portland-based company will be helping Missoula County identify housing solutions, and because Missoula County recently paused the development scheme of transforming Larchmont golf course into a planned community, I decided to poke around the internets for Portland golf course development ideas.

This is what I found:

Over the last week, news stories in The Oregonian and the Portland Tribune have raised the issue of Portland’s public golf courses’ financial insolvency. It so happens that we’ve been mulling over the idea of redeveloping these properties for some time. As golf declines in popularity, redevelopment is becoming increasingly attractive to cities nationwide.

This guest post is from 2019, so the notion of transforming golf courses is not new. Here’s more on the rationale that I suspect will be reapplied once the county property review is complete:

A plan for redeveloping Portland’s golf course properties would have to balance the need for additional housing with the other benefits the open space can provide to the community at large. We took the Eastmoreland Golf Course for a test case. It’s adjacent to two light rail stations, and thus a good candidate for additional housing units. As one of us is a Reed alumnus, we’re sensitive to the neighborhood’s attachments to the open space and the beauty of the site, as well as how it enhances the surrounding community, and our design takes that into account. We think this plan, or something similar, if accepted, is worth a guarantee to the neighborhood that it can stay single family in perpetuity (with ADUs, of course) and place a permanent moratorium on demolitions. Quid pro quo is only fair. We’re completely sympathetic with neighborhood concerns and this would be entirely consistent with our general approach of balancing preservation with strategic infilling where appropriate.

The emphasis here is interesting because one could almost see it as a veiled threat. If the neighborhood does NOT accept this plan, will the single family character of the neighborhood be attacked by density zealots?

Back to the first link, here’s an example of how EcoNorthwest took thirty grand to tell us something that is VERY OBVIOUS to anyone with half a brain:

Oscar Saucedo-Andrade, one of the consultants, said Missoula’s shortage of housing remains the main contributor for rising costs. And as costs rise, local wages aren’t keeping pace. Median incomes in Missoula County have risen 15% over the past decade while housing costs have risen 109%, according to the plan.

“This creates increasing affordability challenges,” he said. “We’ve seen that renters are the most impacted here. They’re paying more out-of-pocket for housing compared to owners. About 50% of renters are cost burdened compared to 20% of owners in 2019.”

If there was a CAPTAIN OBVIOUS award I think Oscar Saucedo-Andrade would win, hands down. What exactly is the value of what this company has produced? Do we really need to know that cities like Bozeman and Boulder are experiencing the same thing?

But Missoula isn’t alone in the challenge. Consultants cited the “four B’s” in Bozeman, Boulder, Boise and Bend, among other cities in the West experiencing new housing pressures. While state law limits some solutions in Montana, other tools have been implemented elsewhere, from an excise tax to a housing bond to fund affordable construction.

“I think you’re all experiencing similar housing pressures right now,” said consultant Lorelei Juntunen. “Boise’s housing market is completely through the roof right now and has a similar trajectory to what you’re experiencing.”

Amazing insights, thanks Lorelei! Now what should we do about it?

Actions recommended in the plan range from removing regulatory barriers to disposing public land. The county is currently taking an inventory of its public holdings and will likely present its findings this year.

The city has for the past few years used its property holdings to help direct the outcome of projects unfolding in a public-private partnership. The county could explore something similar, though Juntunen said coordination will be key.

I bolded the admission that Missoula COUNTY is going to repeat the brilliant policies of the CITY because, you know, our Mayor and City Council critters have been SO SUCCESSFUL in addressing the housing crisis within city limits.

I’ll keep tracking the development of this County plan because I believe the push to transform community parcels, like the golf course, has NOT gone away completely, despite public outcry against the scheme.

So stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

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 County’s Movement Toward A Housing Plan

  1. Bob Nelson says:

    Thank you for standing up for golfers. Larchmont almost always makes money for the County, and this will surely continue with the resurgence of interest in golf among youths.

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