Consulting firm defends Missoula housing survey against councilman’s criticism

The author of a pending study intended to find solutions to Missoula’s housing challenges pushed back this week against the allegations of a City Council member who suggested a survey included in the effort was flawed and would produce “junk data.”

Daniel Werwrath of Werwrath Associates – a community development firm that has done work across the country – said the survey in question is intended to get a broader sense from the building industry about its experience in dealing with the city’s land-use codes and housing regulations.

Werwrath said the survey itself wasn’t meant to be scientific, but rather would help inform the study’s broader research.

“The survey simply asked them to rate various potential approaches for lowering development costs,” he said. “This subjective data is used by us, as researchers, to guide what we investigate more deeply and to help inform the wider community about the perspectives of the very sector that will ultimately be key to implementing any enhanced approaches for creating more housing.”

Earlier this month, Ward 4 City Council member John DiBari sent out a citywide email criticizing the survey, saying its methodology would produce “junk data” that will do little to help the city make policy decisions around housing.

The survey is part of a larger study commissioned by the Missoula Organization of Realtors. But DiBari suggested the data used to inform the survey, and the study itself, was being cherry-picked by the development community to benefit its own interests.

“You can’t take that information and draw any broader inferences from it,” DiBari said.

Werwrath said the survey in question garnered 30 responses, with “nearly equal” representation among community stakeholders, including city and county land-use staff.

It also included realtors, builders and nonprofit housing providers, he said.

“Our work is overseen by a diverse community advisory board that includes a city representative, along with a wide group of additional stakeholders,” Werwrath said. “As new sections of the report are drafted, they are reviewed and critiqued by these diverse stakeholders to ensure that no unintentional biases are making their way into our work.”

The study represents a larger community partnership intended to address affordable housing, which has emerged as one of the most pressing issues facing the city.

Most applicants interviewed to date for the open Ward 2 council seat mentioned housing costs as one of the city’s greatest challenges, as have both candidates for mayor. A study released this week on the State of the Workforce in Missoula also identified housing as a barrier to economic growth.

MOR plans to release the study this December. Whether the City Council acknowledges the findings and works to implement solutions to the city’s housing issues will be determined in the weeks that follow.

Other than DiBari’s criticism, Werwrath said, the study and the methods behind it have received community support.

“My experience of connecting with dozens of highly varied stakeholders in the community has resulted in nearly universal alignment and excitement about addressing Missoula’s rapidly intensifying affordable housing issues,” Werwrath said.