I have several questions about this survey.
First, why is the PDF version only on a private website and not the city’s? Didn’t the city pay for this, using tax money? So why can’t I find it on the city website, just a private site?
At first I thought this might be the same survey, but the one on the private site lists 603 respondents and this one from the city lists 739.
The one I just linked to is called the 2021 Community Needs Assessment report and came out in February, the private one released this week is called Citizen Survey. KGVO also has a link to the latest survey, but again...is it on their site or the city site? And if it’s not on the city site, why?
Here are some interesting takeaways neither outlet really addressed:
- Nearly 25% of Missoulians consider their lives just average, below average, or poor. That might not seem like a lot, but just two years ago it was at 20%. And remember, this includes a lot of new transplants that have recently moved here.
- I don’t think it’s any surprise that the two wards that have gone against Engen the most over the past few years have the lowest satisfaction - Wards 4 and 6. Jesse Ramos and Adam Hertz’s old wards, a little more conservative. I suspect Engen will spend more campaign dollars here than in other wards.
- I was surprised that more renters consider their lives good than homeowners. Sure, it’s only by 1% (42.8% to 41.7%), but I think that says a lot...like maybe closing costs, HOA dues, higher utility payments, property taxes, home insurance, mortgage insurance, fire insurance, flood insurance, constant repairs, yardwork...not to mention the mortgage itself. When faced with paying $500,000+ for the promise that you’ll have to pay for all this for 30 years, gosh...I can see why many might choose to rent instead of buy, especially in this overpriced area.
- The most important issue to Missoulians is also the issue they’re most unhappy with - housing affordability. The next most important thing is getting the fire truck to your house when you need it. People are pretty satisfied this happens when it’s supposed to. Next is planning and managing for growth. The least important issues for Missoulians are permitting and licensing services, followed by city court services. It’d be interesting to see how much we spend on what people think is important and needed, vs. what they think is a waste of time and money. But our local reporters will never dig into that.
- Of course, probably the most glaring problem the survey tells us is how white we are, 86%. The next highest group is “prefer not to answer,” at 7.6%. That’s a really helpful answer, isn’t it? I guess black people figure their lives don’t matter here, as they make up just 0.7% of the population.
- I think Missoula is aging faster than the rest of the state. Back during the 2010 census, Montana had 19% of its people aged 65 or over. With the latest Missoula survey, we find out that nearly 35% of Missoulians are over the age of 60, and 47% are over the age of 50, and a whopping 61% are over the age of 40. This means we have around 35% of the population that is actually prime working age...the people that are supposed to take care of the old people. But that’s a bit misleading, as 14% are aged 18 to 29, and we know that many of these younger millennials don’t want to work, don’t want to work that much, and quite frankly, are a little on the slow side. Couple that with a dying university that can only draw a fraction of its former high student count, and in 5 years or so, this town is going to be in very serious trouble, with few young workers to cater to the rich transplants. And really...problem for whom?
- In addition to age we also have sex. First, I want to mention that a whopping 4.6% of respondents didn’t want to list their age. Next, 3.8% didn’t want to mention their sex, or said they were non-binary. And just like race, Missoula has a huge problem in that it has more men than women, 51% to 45%. That’s just not woke enough.
- Finally, we have income. Here, 12% chose not to answer. After that we learn that 41% of Missoulians are making more than the median income. We know that 47% make less than the median income, and that 12% of those folks make less than $20,000 a year. On the high end, 14% are making more than $100,000 a year and 22% make more than $85,000 a year. Nearly a quarter of our town makes more money than the other three-quarters combined. That’s pretty severe income-inequality.
Switching gears slightly, I’d like to go back to the report that came out in February.
Toward the end, it asks the 739 respondents if they’re satisfied with housing options, and 75% said no. Maybe you can understand why the city did a simple 1-5 satisfaction rating with their latest survey - it's easier to hoodwink you that way.
Here are some of the things that 504 of them complained about:
“A majority simply commented again about general lack of affordable housing options.
Many expressed frustration at a lack of affordable entry-level homeownership options.
Smaller percentages discussed the low quality of homes in Missoula, their desire for more options for senior living, and better wages. The remaining comments ranged in their topic area with no other significant themes. Many provided more information about their own particular circumstance and challenges. A few comments are excerpted below.”
- “Rent continues to go up. This means we have to keep moving every so many years.”
- “I gave up trying to buy a house in Missoula about 5 years ago because I could not afford anything, even with assistance. I work full time at a local business. I'm terrified of ever having to leave the place I am renting now, because I don't know how I will find anything else I can afford. I have begun planning to move elsewhere because the lack of affordable housing and I know many people who are in the same position.”
- “My husband and I are have no kids, make $85,000/year joint income, and we can't find a home to buy. Prices skyrocketed, and hardly anything is available. We want our affordable rental to go to someone who needs it but we can't afford to move.”
- “My partner and I were planning to buy a home this year, but can no longer afford a home in Missoula, or even outside of Missoula. We are both full time employees.”
- “With the rise in home costs, we are locked into our home and cannot afford to move to a larger home. The options available to us are rough, have not been updated, and overpriced. The quality of houses in Missoula is poor.”
I don’t ever remember reading about this report in the media.
From the above comments, I think you can understand why. The sweetness & light report that the city’s propaganda rags paraded around this week is the kind of report they want, one that tells the narrative they want to tell.
The report that came out in February was the exact opposite, so it must be hidden.
Just your city government ‘at work.’
Another reason why the report from earlier this year was hushed-up is because of Covid priorities. People said giving housing payment assistance to renters struggling with the pandemic was the most important thing, with 315 people saying so. One of the city/county’s main priorities today is not helping struggling renters, but homeless people. In February, just 164 people said the most important priority was sheltering the homeless. That comes out to 43% vs. 28%.
That just doesn’t fit with the current narrative, now does it?
Overwhelmingly, people earlier this year said the most important thing for local government to do right now is get more housing built. But based on the city’s own actions and words, this is one of the least important.
If it was important, the city/county would figure out how to cut their permitting and zoning processes down from their current 2 years to around 3 to 6 months, preferably less.
But that would create less paperwork in the office, and how would a bureaucrat manage to get their 40 hours a week then, huh? Hell, they already have enough trouble filling eight hours a day with the four hours of work they actually have.
I’ve worked for state and federal government before, as well as the school district - I know how it works. It's called make-work, so you look busy...and if tacking a few months or years to the process forces someone to move from Missoula, so what? At least your cushy government job is safe.
What these surveys tell me is that a lot of what’s happening in Missoula right now is working for the ultra-wealthy, just not the actual people on the ground catering to their every whim and need.
Bozeman is complaining to congress to do something about affordable housing, because there aren’t enough peons to cater to the out-of-state idle rich. Eventually those idle rich will move away to sunnier locales if that continues, and at this point, it shows no signs of changing.
As usual, government is the problem...but they think they’re the solution. That means the problem will only get worse.