Bill Van Horn

Once again it seems our betters are making housing decisions for us, this time wrapped in the cloak of “equity.”

I read with some interest the piece in Thursday’s issue with comments from a consultant hired by the city to examine Missoula’s housing issues, and it hit the same tired refrain: single family homes are the devil and should be replaced with “densified” options.

To me, this reads like something written by someone who likely lives in a 3000+ square foot single family home and is missing the city they moved from (although I could be wrong, but it’s been my experience that many advocates for densified housing don’t actually live in it themselves).

As one might expect, the gentrification card is played almost at once when discussing single family homes. Maybe I’m a bit slow, but could someone explain how condos priced at half a million dollars (or more) in the Sawmill District AREN’T examples of gentrification? The same could be said of the other big-ticket “densified” options we’re seeing advertised these days. And with rent going through the roof, it should be obvious to anyone who lives in an apartment that these complexes aren’t an answer, either.

Let’s talk for a moment about the elephant in the room: these densified options (glorified apartments no matter how you look at them) are in essence throwaway projects for builders. You can knock them out in series, save money with inadequate soundproofing and other measures, and then walk away. And there’s nothing a potential buyer can do about it.

Basic issues like poor soundproofing, badly-fitted windows and doors, and other structural issues aren’t going to be fixed because it would be too expensive to redo the entire complex (which is what you’d have to do in order to rectify many issues like these). And with multiple owners in a single structure the issue is even more complicated. And anyone who thinks soundproofing isn’t an issue in apartment-style housing either hasn’t lived in such a complex for many years or enjoys hearing every sound their neighbors make 24/7.

This kind of housing also eliminates owner choices when it comes to green options. You want solar? Forget about it unless you happen to live in the top unit (and even then there’s likely to be some kind of HOA provision prohibiting it). You want low-water use landscaping? Forget about it. You have no real control over that, either. You have exactly zero choices once you leave the confines of your glorified apartment.

There are other options. Manufactured homes on smaller lots allow for actual home ownership and a level of resident choice in a contained space. Townhomes that are actually soundproofed and have intelligent floorplans are another possibility, although we should be careful to avoid the quiet tyranny of HOAs when looking at collective options.

We should be looking for answers that allow people to own their own homes instead of just soaking them for rent (which often goes to an out-of-state parent company) and acting like we’re doing them a favor in the process. Equity should also involve freedom of choice and options, not recreating a city someone moved away from and now misses.