Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Residents across Missoula County want a wider housing stock, greater affordability and more investment in public infrastructure, according to a survey completed last month.

Conducted annually, the Housing and Community Development Survey received 570 responses, with 55% coming from city residents and 45% from county residents. Regardless of where they lived, housing garnered many of the top concerns.

When asked what the top three community priorities were, respondents named improving existing infrastructure, increasing the supply of affordable housing and expanding infrastructure.

“These three priorities are what county residents ranked highest,” said Erin Kautz, a grants administrator with the county “But when looking at city residents, they ranked increasing affordable housing first, improving existing infrastructure second, and improving public facilities third.”

Improving existing infrastructure remained the top community need, just as it did in the 2022 survey. The lack of affordable homes to buy, and the lack of affordable rental units, remained the top two housing needs.

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Sarah Bell, a grants administrator with the county, said the lack of home types also made this year's list of housing needs among city residents. But county residents identified a lack of homes where seniors can age in place.

On housing resource needs, respondents named down-payment assistance for low- to moderate income home buyer as the top priority, followed by rental assistance for low- to -moderate income renters, and resources for homeowners to update existing homes.

“The city and county agreed on two of them, but the county would like more resources for homeowners to update existing homes where the city would like more facilities for people experiencing homelessness,” said Bell. “Again, it's reflective of what we're seeing these communities.”

The need for housing also appeared as the top solution to increase economic development. While the city has made progress in improving its supply of housing, and while the vacancy rate in the rental market is rising to a healthier level, the lack of housing in general continues to impact prices.

And where housing is needed, so too is infrastructure.

“We asked if there was a need for public infrastructure in the communities where people lived, and folks answered yes,” said Bell. “In the county, 71% said there was a need where the city said 60%.”

Infrastructure needs include sidewalks, curbs and gutters, parks and playgrounds, and water system improvements. Respondents in the city named trees and vegetation as their third response.

While the survey isn't scientifically valid, the county's chief lands and communities officer Chet Crowser said, “There's enough people there to allow us to take a quick snapshot.” The survey represents a means to determine how and where to disperse state and federal funds, including HOME investment funds and Community Development Block Grants.