Numbers explain crunch 

Two recent studies combine to paint a grim picture for Missoula's most needy: the homeless population is on the rise in what's been deemed an "unaffordable" local housing market.

The University of Montana's Bureau of Business and Economic Research released its findings this summer, stating almost 30 percent of Missoula's homeowners are paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing. Another report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), released this month, shows the state's homeless numbers jumped 23 percent from 2007 to 2008.

Jim Morton, executive director of the Human Resource Council for Missoula, says the separate studies reflect a perfect storm between a terrible economy and high rent prices.

"More [families] would move to their own homes quickly, but low rents aren't available," says Morton.

The Bureau of Business and Economic Research report explains why families are having a hard time finding affordable housing. According to data analyzed from 1988 to 2007, average Montana home prices have increased by 96 percent, while per capita income has only increased by 26 percent. The report states that four local markets—including Missoula, Kalispell and Hamilton—fail to meet the National Association of Realtors standards of affordability, meaning the median-income family can't afford a median-priced home.

The homeless numbers are even worse. According to HUD, only Wyoming and Mississippi experienced a greater increase than Montana in homelessness between 2007 and 2008. Bob Buzzas, coordinator of The Montana Continuum of Care Coalitions, which contributed to the HUD report by conducting a one-night survey during late January, says the numbers in Missoula alone show the homeless population up 32 percent since 2007. The report listed domestic violence, high rent and loss of jobs as the leading causes.

Poverello Executive Director Ellie Hill sees the results of these studies everyday. She doesn't consider them new news, but rather confirmation of a growing need for local relief.

"It wasn't a surprise to us, " Hill says. "There is an unprecedented demand on our services."

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