Sam Oliver

Earlier this month, the Missoula Housing Authority provided an informal leasing update to the Missoula Affordable Housing Trust Fund Resident Oversight Committee regarding Missoula’s largest affordable housing project, Villagio.

The committee update spurred misconceptions about affordable housing and MHA’s policies. I would like to address these misconceptions and provide vital context regarding quotes shared with the community to prevent additional and unnecessary barriers to stable, affordable housing.

Income compliance standards are slowing leasing rates.

In 2023, we brought two decades of affordable housing to the Missoula market when we opened 402 units. This is an unprecedented number for our community in terms of addressing housing needs on this scale and in this timeframe. Over the last five months, 75% of the new apartments and townhomes have been rented. This number also includes providing permanent supportive housing to 30 chronically homeless individuals.

We anticipate filling the remaining units this spring, supporting the trend of absorption rates for a market with high demand for rental properties.

Missoula does not need affordable housing options since there are so many applicants who are income overqualified.

Housing challenges are not new to Missoula or to the work at the Missoula Housing Authority, which has been addressing them since 1978. The United States Census Bureau estimates that 14.6 % of residents in the City of Missoula live in poverty, while 9.2% of the county is in poverty.

We build affordable housing properties like Villagio for community members making at or below 60% of the Area Median Income.

At MHA, we know that stable, safe, affordable homes are the foundation of a healthy community. First and most fundamentally, the existence of housing affordable to a range of households is key to economic growth. Businesses need a diversity of workers to thrive and grow, and those workers need a range of affordable housing options. MHA is using outdated metrics to income-qualify applicants.

Area Median Income (AMI) is the most effective method to ensure income standards match a community’s needs.

AMI is calculated using the American Community Survey (Census Bureau data) and released by the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) annually and typically in the spring. The metrics used by housing programs currently come from the ACS survey completed in 2022 and released by HUD in May of 2023. It is not atypical to receive income-overqualified applications due to how income benchmarks are calculated and adjusted based on family/household size.

The metrics are not produced in real-time and can be challenging for communities if they experience a significant wage increase one year while housing programs wait until the next set of AMI metrics are released. MHA is not using outdated metrics. We are using the same metrics the vast majority of federal, state, and local housing programs use to qualify participant eligibility based on income levels.

Income compliance standards are a problem.

Income compliance standards make affordable housing projects possible. This compliance standard is generally a mandatory practice and allows housing programs like MHA access to low-income housing tax credits making the construction of affordable properties possible.

Most affordable housing properties require that the income of a prospective resident falls under a specified percentage of AMI to lease a unit. This metric is also essential for forecasting rental income and maintaining rents below market rate. For example, the average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Missoula is $1,644, but at Villagio, an affordable property, a 2-bedroom is $1,062, well below market rate.

At MHA, we are proud of our commitment to transparency with the community and welcome the opportunity to discuss our work.

Sam Oliver is the executive director of the Missoula Housing Authority