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Unpaid taxes: Missoula residents collect dollars to save mobile homes from auction

Just under 100 mobile home owners need help paying their tax bills by 5 p.m. Tuesday or their homes will be auctioned. (Svein Newman/GoFundMe.com)

Believing affordable housing “begins with helping folks stay in housing they already have,” dozens of Missoula residents are rallying to pay the delinquent taxes of mobile home owners.

Just short of 100 homes are on the list set for auction by Missoula County on Wednesday, should the overdue taxes not be paid by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

One of the unpaid tax bills is just $191.

Svein Newman organized the Gofundme.com campaign after learning about a state law that requires counties to auction mobile homes if the owners fall behind on their taxes.

“The priority is working with the county to help people who’re currently in their homes and want to stay there, starting with the cheapest debts and working up as far as we can,” Newman said.

By 11 p.m. Monday, 67 people had donated $3,709 to the cause. Newman said 100 percent of the money will go toward the unpaid tax bills.

The goal is $5,000, although Newman said the number is “arbitrary” and would not save all the homes from auction. So he’ll keep encouraging donations until 4 p.m. Tuesday, then head for the county treasurer’s office.

There, treasurer Tyler Gernant has promised to be waiting with the information needed to select the tax bills that will be paid. Among the research he’ll have available is a list of the county’s most vulnerable families – so the financial aid will have the most impact.

“Will we be able to help everyone? No. But can we save a few homes? Totally,” Newman said.

The effort drew support and a shout-out Monday night from City Councilwoman Heidi West, who encouraged donations to the fund during the council-comment section of the body’s weekly meeting.

It’s a different approach to confronting Missoula’s affordable housing crisis, but a valid – and real-world – one, West said.

About 100 mobile home owners settled their unpaid tax accounts on Monday, cutting the number at risk of auction from  nearly 200 to 97.

Missoula County communications coordinator Allison Franz sent out a news release about the delinquent taxes, explaining that officials have no choice but to set a public auction of delinquent tax properties.

The county collects property taxes from the owners of 50,000 different properties, including 5,000 mobile homes, according to Franz.

The county treasurer “is required by law to pursue collection of these taxes to the fullest extent possible,” she said, “and holds the annual mobile home sale to fulfill this duty. Efforts ensure that local schools, emergency responders and local governments receive the necessary funds to operate within their limited budgets.”

For any mobile homes that remain with delinquent taxes after Tuesday’s deadline, the auction is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday in Room 151 of the Courthouse Annex, 200 W. Broadway. Participants must register between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.

On the GoFundMe page, Newman said he’s lived in Missoula for seven years and is a community organizer.

He works in conservation but said his volunteerism and board service “tends toward social justice.”

“Additionally,” he said, “I grew up largely in a trailer home, so this feels personal to me.”

To donate to the campaign, click here.