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Missoulians struggle to find affordable housing

Posted at 8:00 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 16:14:37-05

MISSOULA — Finding an affordable place to live in Missoula is a big issue for residents.

With new development proposals, and a new housing policy aimed to bring “affordable housing”, we asked city officials, what exactly is “affordable housing?”

Eran Pehan, who spearheaded Missoula’s housing policy, says the city is trying to make improvements.

“Our goal at the city is to reduce barriers to constructing homes that are affordable to Missoulians, and promote access, and partner in creative ways with the private sector,” said Pehan.

Affordable housing is defined as housing that costs below 30% of a family or individuals gross income. The median cost of a home in 2018 was $290,000 and to purchase a home like that, a family would need an income of more than $95,000 for it to be affordable. Homeowners aren’t the only ones struggling as 49% of renters in Missoula also did not have affordable housing in 2017.

University of Montana economist Patrick Barkey says many things drive up the cost of housing, but people moving to Western Montana is the biggest factor.

"People moving to Missoula, both because it’s a cool place and they want to live here but also because there's employment opportunity," said Barkley. "There’s companies that are growing, looking for talent, and so this looks like a good place."

The Missoula Organization of Realtors reports that in 2018 Missoula had a strong economy and low unemployment and the median income increased 17% to $54,311. Yet the housing market is not keeping up with population growth. The rental market is tight, and there is a limited supply of affordable homes for sale.

Pehan says the city is working to create housing that everyone can afford, "over the next three years the city of Missoula is supporting the construction of over 450 rental units that will be income qualifying,” said Pehan.

Until then, residents are wondering how much longer they can afford life in Missoula. The Missoula Organization of Realtors also reports that zero affordable housing units were built in 2018.