Missoula County to create affordable housing policy, hires consultant

Missoula County on Thursday laid the groundwork to explore and ultimately develop a housing policy that could compliment efforts taken by the city over the past two years.

Melissa Gordon, the county’s grants administrator, said ECONorthwest out of Portland will develop the affordable housing strategy under the $30,000 contract.

“Our work with them will start on March 1,” said Gordon. “The bulk of the work will be completed by August 31. We’re scheduled to have a kick-off meeting with the consulting team and the commission on March 8.”

The City of Missoula adopted its housing policy in June 2019, though that was the easy part. The city has spent the past two years working to refine, approve and implement the dozens of detailed code changes, policies and programs included in the adopted policy.

Among other things, the city’s policy sought to preserve affordable homes, reduce barriers that limit the construction of new housing stock, and create affordable housing incentives.

The policy also sought to establish a housing trust fund, something the city launched during last year’s budgeting process by providing the fund with around $750,000 in seed funding.

The county will explore similar options.

“The intent is, whatever plan is developed, to compliment the city’s efforts and to define our efforts in outlying areas in terms of affordable housing,” said Gordon. “The end result will be a concise report that includes findings, recommendations and outlines specific action steps that need to be taken.”

The county has some direction based upon the actions taken by the city, and it has hired Jordan Lyons, a housing specialist, to help guide the effort.

Before the city adopted its housing policy, it tipped up a new Office of Housing and Community Development and appointed Eran Pehan to lead the effort.

County commissioners have a long list of goals they expect to find in the final product, which will be developed over the summer by community input, a needs analysis and ECONorthwest’s expertise.

“We’re hoping we’ll get this report back and that will provide us with some direction and some ideas and some data so we can make some sound decisions on how we spend our resources,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick.