HAMILTON — Affordable housing advocates take their case for more support to Ravalli County commissioners, saying the housing crisis in the Bitterroot is getting worse, with an increasing number of people facing economic pressure to remain sheltered.
The new Bitterroot Homelessness and Housing Needs Assessment paints a bleak picture for housing in the valley, saying 15-to-20% of Ravalli County residents are facing "housing insecurities", fear of losing their homes, with more and more homeless families.
"There's just not enough housing, and in fact, as we know, there's not enough housing for folks who can't afford a higher rent or even afford to purchase an in today's market," Human Resource Council Director Jim Morton said during his presentation of the report.
Report author Jamie Ogden is seeing the impacts firsthand with the students she works with at Bitterroot College, "full-time students, full-time workers, still finding that 50 to 100% of their earnings go to pay rent."
The Bitterroot Affordable Housing Coalition told county commissioners that even when scarce apartments or houses become vacant, challenges with income and employment keep shelter out of reach.
"They cannot compete," Housing Specialist Tomie Martin explained. "One comes available, there's 30 people in line."
"Anybody with a barrier or issue, maybe their credit has gone bad because they've had a lack of income, their income is low, they're just not going to compete. So they don't get picked."
The problem is especially acute for even temporary housing, with a tourism boom, and TV production crews taking up available space, harmful for people trying to escape domestic violence.
"But the thing is, even now hotels aren't available and campgrounds aren't available, " Stacie Umhey of SAFE in the Bitterroot told commissioners. "So our Plan B's and our Plan Cs and our Plan Ds are disappearing. And so we need everybody at the table, including our local governments."
Developer RAN Pigman though told commissioners it's not just a case of building more affordable housing units, although he said those are needed. He said the problem is where to build them with skyrocketing land prices.
"Our valley just got very expensive to do anything and driven by a horde of people moving in, with a majority of them cash. You know they're easy to work with because 'here's my money. I just want first in line'. And you know what you get first in line when you're that way." - developer RAN Pigman.
"So that being said. We're always looking at where and how can we consider the next community. Which is difficult because to be done right, it needs to be on city services."
Pigman did express hope that more larger apartment complexes could be coming within the next year.
Housing volunteer Anna Tuttle believes Ravalli County could develop a model program that could be an example to other communities with the same problem.
"If we put our heads together and we come up with a creative solution, there's all types of things that we could be doing that could empower people. Not just give them housing, but actually, empower them and give them hope."
Commissioners pledged their support to tackle the issue.