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Current Events: Missoula County taking aim at affordable housing

Posted at 10:03 AM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-24 12:03:00-05

MISSOULA — We take a look at how Missoula County is looking to improve affordable housing in this edition of Currents Events with Martin Kidston of the Missoula Current.

"Just last week the county made a plan to adopt a housing policy. They adopted a housing resolution, signaling their intent to adopt a housing policy. They contracted with EKO Northwest to look at some options about what they can possibly do to address the housing issues in Missoula County,” Kidston said.

“It's listed an array of options that Missoula County could consider as they move forward and try to look at the housing challenge in Missoula,” Kidston continued. “This is the county's first housing policy so they are making progress on that front, and we'll wait to see when they adopt it and implement some of the strategies within the plan.

County officials are looking at using different tools to try and solve — or at least take a jab at — the affordable housing issue.

“Jab at it is probably the right word. Everybody admits it's probably not going to be solved immediately. Anything implemented today will probably take a couple of years to bear any fruit. Some of the options in that plan include removing any regulatory barriers that make housing more expensive. It looks at buyer education, down payment assistance and it looks at land disposition as a key part as well,” Kidston explained.

“Late last year the county had the issue with the Larchmont Golf Course and to redevelopment that. The county passed on the opportunity to redevelop the golf course, but it ordered the staff to look at the county's landholdings across the county and what options those particular parcels of land may hold,” Kidston continued. “We'll see when the report comes out what it says and pick away at that. Maybe this piece or that piece might be possible to dispose of to bring down the cost of development for affordable housing.”

One of the Missoula County commissioners recently said you can't leave it to the marketplace alone, otherwise, prices are going to go higher.

“They do believe in that, but there are split feelings on that. But the people in the county feel like the market won't meet the needs of affordable housing. They suggest that left unchecked housing will go to the highest market value that they can get a return on. They won't be as concerned as much about affordability but more about the return,” Kidston said.

“If you talk to other people, they disagree with that. They feel if government gets out of the way the market will be free and meet the needs that the city has," Kidston continued. "The county feels the market alone won't address it, so they want to get involved and push the market -- [addressing] a solution that [addressing] affordability.”

There are questions to as whether Missoula County will follow the lead that the city laid out or if they will go in a different direction.

“The county will take a lot of the city's policies and follow suit of what the city has already done. The city is already several years into its efforts. I think the county will take up similar solutions like land acquisitions, land banking and other programs the city is already doing,” Kidston said. “They have a lot of projects in the works through public and private efforts for the next couple of years.”