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Missoula housing policy to explore changes to code to boost building

Posted: 7:20 AM, May 23, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-22 20:23:22-04
Eran Pehan, director of Housing and Community Development, said changes to city code could begin and see implementation in the coming year. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

Martin Kidston – Missoula Current

The city’s housing office plans to implement a suite of recommendations included in Missoula’s new housing policy over the coming year by making changes to code, adopting new code and creating new procedures.

Eran Pehan, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development, told members of the City Council on Wednesday that some changes could happen sooner while others will take time to develop.

“Some of this implementation will happen swiftly while the development of other code changes and programs will require more significant expertise and input provided by stakeholders, our neighborhoods and the broader community,” she said. “Some of these will naturally occur over the course of the next 24 months.”

Last week, the city unveiled its housing policy in a long-sought push to address affordability by recommending a suite of changes to standing regulations.

The city will likely adopt a number of recommendations over the coming year, including a mobile home park displacement policy and code changes to promote the development of accessory dwelling units.

Pehan said her office also plans to track any progress, including rental and housing data, and new construction starts. In the near term, the policy looks to bring more than 1,300 income-targeted homes onto the market, directly impacting the lives of over 6,000 Missoulians.

“We will have a very robust system established and are already in the process of creating that as it applies to homes created as a byproduct of our incentives program,” Pehan said. “We’ll also be working with Development Services to get a good analysis of how many additional permits and starts we’re seeing as a result of shifts to general land use codes that don’t come with incentives.”

While some policies could be effected through changes to code, others will require funding. Among them, the policy looks to establish a housing trust fund, something that council members believe will require further community discussion.

As written, the policy suggests that a fund could be seeded though a levy, a bond, private equity or other revenue sources. Pehan said the policy looks to establish a funding mechanism in the next 24 months, but not the fund itself.

“The alternative recommendation in that section is to explore funding sources,” she said. “That exploration will occur in the next 24 months, but there is no recommendation within the plan to choose a specific source or to seed the fund with a specific source.”

The policy also looks to award bonuses to developers who build at higher densities and include a component of affordability. Pehan said a number of factors in the past have prevented developers from achieving densities permitted by zoning.

They include existing city code that requires certain setbacks, parking allotments, open space and limits on building heights. Such factors have challenged the development community, she said.

“When you factor all those conditions in, it’s often impossible for a developer to physically achieve the density allowable on that site,” she said. “We have to take all of that into consideration when we look at how we can support developers in achieving density and aligning that with our stated goals in the growth policy to grow inward.”

While the policy looks to roll back regulations and create more housing, council member John DiBari suggested it was only half of the equation.

The city must also work to boost the median wage and give a greater number of residents more buying power, he said.

“We’re not going to subdivide our way out of this. We’re also not going to deregulate or rezone our way out of what’s happening here,” he said. “The more I think about the housing issue, the more I think it’s counterpart is the wage issue. We have to think carefully about what our partners in the economic development community are doing.”