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Missoula realtors launch housing survey as part of affordability study

The Missoula Organization of Realtors and a team of community partners are looking to move beyond the facts that are often cited around housing in the city – that being its cost and the challenges many face in finding an affordable place to live.

To get there, MOR on Tuesday launched a new community survey as part of a larger study, known as “Making Missoula Home: A Path To Attainable Housing.”

“What we want to do with this survey is get a better sense from people living in the greater Missoula area about their experiences as consumers of housing,” said Sam Sill, public affairs director at MOR. “What type of housing are they living in? Does it meet their needs? If not, what kind of housing are they looking for? What can they afford and what are the barriers to enter housing?”

Among other things, the survey asks how many people live in the house, their estimated annual income before taxes, and whether one works in the city or county. That latter question is key, as many workers are thought to commute into the city from the county, where the cost of living is often lower.

The survey also asks if one is looking to purchase a home, if they’ve tried to do so and what obstacles they faced in the process.

“Fundamentally, what we’re going for is to identify the barriers to developing more housing that’s affordable for Missoula families, and come up with some solutions,” Sill said. “Making Missoula Home will provide some specific and actionable strategies that policy makers and the local governments can use.”

While the cost of a rental remained flat last year, the city’s cost of home ownership has continued to climb at one of the nation’s fastest rates. Both homes and rentals have grown faster than the prevailing local wage in recent years.

According to MOR’s most recent housing study, the median sales price of a home reached a record high of $255,000 last year. It has already climbed to about $270,000 this year.

What’s more, according to MOR, nearly half of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and are considered “cost burdened.” As a result, Sill said, many families struggle to afford housing, and Missoula is in danger of becoming a less prosperous city because of it.

“MOR has been talking about lack of affordability and how it’s been a growing problem ever since the end of the recession,” said Sill. “It’s time to address it. It’s clear that our partners and the community sees housing as a problem that needs to be addressed.”

Missoula Mayor John Engen has also described housing as a problem that needs to be addressed. Last year, he created the Office of Housing and Economic Development to pursue housing grants, work with developers and find unique solutions to address the cost of housing.

The city also has partnered with MOR in the study, as has Missoula County, the Missoula Economic Partnership, the Missoula Building Industry Association, and the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce.

Business sponsors include First Security Bank, Territorial Landworks, Pew Construction, Edgell Building, St. Patrick Hospital, and First Interstate Bank.

“Brainstorming with the other groups is part of the process of this study, but we’ll have to hand the ball off to local government at some point, because they’re the actual policy makers,” said Sill. “I would anticipate Making Missoula will be finished and released to the public at some point in the fourth quarter this year.”