More bad news—and good ideas—on housing 

At the behest of several Missoula City Council candidates, the Center for Policy Analysis and Community Change (CPACC) earlier this week presented a broad overview of Missoula’s shortage of affordable housing. CPACC, an offshoot of the Missoula-based WORD (Women’s Opportunity and Resource Development) also arranged for a number of local experts to speak on the varied components of the problem.

According to Deb Halliday, a policy associate for CPACC, the group’s mission is to provide non-partisan policy research and analysis of issues related to affordable housing, land use and welfare reform, and then meet with community organizations to provide a framework for change.

Halliday pointed to a number of factors that indicate the timeliness of this issue. Citing statistics from a trend analysis performed for the Missoula Office of Planning and Grants’ Consolidated Plan, Halliday said that increases in housing costs have outstripped increases in wage by an alarming margin (48 percent vs. 2 percent), and that 72 percent of Missoula-area households can no longer afford the average cost of a three-bedroom house. Combine those figures with a less than one percent vacancy rate in the rental market (national norms average between 5 and 6 percent), and it’s clear that immediate action is needed.

CPACC policy director Judy Smith spoke about the need to re-tool the city’s current zoning system which, she contends, has pushed the lion’s share of new development to outlying areas–a practice that costs the city money in developing new services but does little to help low-income residents, many of whom cannot afford to live outside the urban area. Smith pointed to inclusionary zoning, which would mandate developers to provide a predetermined percentage of affordable housing in projects of a certain size and location, and to “adaptive reuse,” which would allow inter-urban areas to be rezoned as the needs of the community changes, as new ways of addressing the housing crisis.

County Commissioner Bill Carey championed housing cooperatives as a method to encourage low-income residents to enter the home-ownership process, citing projects in Davis, Calif. and Madison, Wisc. as successful models. Local architect Don MacArthur also spoke on the importance of development location and design as integral components to the execution of a community vision, while Ren Essene of homeWORD (the housing arm of WORD) elaborated on the need for city government to develop straightforward guidelines and incentives that developers can work under.

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