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Letters: Villagio project in Missoula one step in addressing housing challenges

The Missoula Housing Authority (MHA) is proud and excited to be celebrating the groundbreaking on the Villagio development this week. The property on Missoula’s Northside will include 200 homes affordable to people with low incomes, typically below $45,000 per household.

The low-vacancy rates, growing demand, and high and increasing home prices and rental rates are top of mind for many Missoulians. With long-time residents being displaced by increasing rents, and many hopeful homebuyers priced out of the market, the current housing dynamics are devastating for many and disheartening for most.

While no one approach or project will solve our affordability needs, building new homes that are affordable to low- and very low-income people is one important way to ensure that more residents have stable homes they can afford.

While rents across Missoula are up almost 9.0% since last year, rents at MHA remain targeted to ensure that they are affordable to people living at or below 60% of the area median income. Housing vouchers provide additional support by setting the amount of rent residents pay at 30% of their income, allowing remaining income to support other household needs.

Currently MHA has 1,528 people on our waitlist, and it takes about three years to get to the top of the list and receive a voucher. While vouchers work well for many residents, with rising rents and high demand some voucher holders are not able to find housing. This is another reason why Villagio and projects like it are so important, as they provide units affordable and accessible to voucher holders.

MHA is always looking for opportunities to preserve and create more homes. MHA now has 758 homes across 13 properties in 8 different Missoula neighborhoods. Villagio will be the largest and most concentrated of MHA’s properties. It is a large piece of land, with existing infrastructure, and access to the transportation, jobs and services our residents rely on.

The building will feature a range of apartments from 1- to 4-bedrooms, underground parking, patios, large well landscaped boulevards and green spaces, efficient heating, and 10 fully accessible units. This project allows us to build at a scale that will make a meaningful impact, creating the affordable homes our community so desperately needs.

Building at this scale does have its challenges, and we recognize that neighbors on the Northside will bear the weight of the increased density of the Villagio. The Northside neighborhood has seen incredible change over the past decade, and the pace of change has increased in the past three years.

Housing affordability faces the unfortunate and uneven dynamic common to many social and economic issues where the costs are concentrated, and the benefits are diffuse. While as a community we have identified housing affordability as a shared need, as individuals we may not always welcome the impacts new development creates.

While it is not possible to mitigate every negative impact, there have been positive steps taken at Villagio to alleviate some of the pressure. Most notable are inclusion of underground parking to reduce on street parking load, and the changes being worked on with the city and neighbors through the Scott Street Master Plan to address the flow and safety of traffic in the area.

As Missoula continues to grow, MHA will continue to work to support homes across the city that are affordable to our lowest-income households. There are so many who need support to secure a stable home including seniors and people with disabilities living on a fixed income, young individuals and families trying to get started on their own, people who have experienced homelessness including veterans, and teens aging out of foster care.

A stable home provides a critical foundation that leads to better health outcomes, better education outcomes, and more job stability and opportunities. As the need for affordable homes continues to grow, we know more will need to be done to ensure new development balances the need for affordable homes with the impacts on local neighborhoods.

We need more people to engage in this issue, support the good work already being done, and push for more and better solutions. We encourage you to get informed, get involved, join one of the many wonderful organizations in Missoula that are working on this issue, and support the housing we so desperately need.