MISSOULA — Renters in Missoula are still struggling whether that’s trying to find a new apartment at the end of a lease, or handling rent increases.
But, according to the latest report, there's a silver lining as construction is ticking back up after falling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The average lease ask rate increased more than 16% this year for an apartment in Missoula County from just over $900 to more than $1,000 per month.
The increased prices are causing concern for renters -- and the county -- as Missoula continues to grow.
It might be a broken record at this point — but the area has a housing crunch.
Missoula’s rental vacancy rate remains low at 1.04%.
“We’d like to see somewhere in the neighborhood of 5%” observed Nick Chaussee with Sterling-CRE, who added that “it’s unlikely that we’re going to see rents decline.”
He says a typical year-over-year price increase would be closer to 5%. But some good news could be on the horizon.
“More product means renters may be able to find better value in an apartment,” Chaussee said.
A recent report from Sterling CRE shows building permits increased this year by 203%.
“More units in the pipeline, more units delivered, just means that they’re going to have more opportunities,” Chaussee told MTN News.
But even with more than 1,000 new units under construction Missoula County data shows there’s actually a shortage of more than 2,000 units.
While Chaussee says “there is progress being made for sure", the question now is whether the new construction will be enough.
"I think it’s a team effort to work toward the goal,” Chaussee added.
"The county has an important role, but we can't totally fix housing affordability on our own,” noted Missoula Housing Specialist Jordan Lyons.
He said Missoula County is working on a housing action plan, and public feedback.
“It's been a lingering problem for a long time, but definitely like many other places, it's become a much bigger problem in the past couple of years,” Lyons said.
Lyons says some options include zoning changes, investing in infrastructure, and providing funding for low to moderate-income residents.
"Everything has changed so much in the past couple of years, it's hard to see the direction that things are going, but I think we have a really good set of recommendations here that circumstances could change in a lot of different ways, and they're going to really set us up to be resilient to those changes." - Housing Specialist Jordan Lyons
There’s also a public questionnaire residents can fill out to help the county understand renter concerns. "We're gettng feedback from people struggling to afford rent, and we're getting feedback from people who own rentals,” Lyons said.
Lyons says he's hopeful the steps outlined in the plan will help tackle the housing crunch, keeping Missoula a great place to live.
“It's the last best place, why wouldn’t you want to be here,” Chaussee concluded.
A draft of the county's plan is available online, and people are encouraged to send feedback through Nov. 12. It will go to the planning board in December and Missoula County commissioners are set to vote on the plan early next year.