Guest Post by J. Kevin Hunt
I thank retiring Ward 1 Alderman Bryan von Lossberg for his service.
A 63-year-old graduate of Rattlesnake School, Hellgate High, and UM, I reside in my childhood home. I run to illuminate -- and if elected, help eliminate -- exploitation of our housing emergency by 16-year incumbent Mayor Engen's policies threatening to tax lifelong residents out of their homes as Tax Increment Financing (TIF) abuses waste millions by subsidizing banks, big developers, and giant real estate corporations under the guise of providing "affordable" housing while delivering few actually affordable units. A few examples:
Engen’s compliant council approved a $1.4 million TIF subsidy to Stockman’s Bank (Montana’s largest) to build a second hi-rise bank building that houses no one. Lacking cash for that subsidy, the city borrowed it … from Stockman's Bank. We’re paying interest on the city bonds held by that bank to needlessly subsidize its $30M building.
Engen abruptly accelerated a Monday evening City Council public hearing to the preceding Wednesday at 2 pm to "get ahead of rumors" surrounding his sweetheart deal for $16.5 million TIF subsidy of Wisconsin multi-millionaire Nick Checota's luxury hotel and entertainment center "The Drift," granting Checota's family 75-year sole control of ticketing & bookings. The deal would decimate University revenues from entertainment events, drive the last coffin nail in our local music scene, and triple the cars in Missoula every two weeks, without providing one affordable dwelling unit. As the only ordinary citizen to discover Engen's maneuver (done while the city recorder was away) and attend the mid-workday-rescheduled hearing to speak in opposition, I said the deal could wreak municipal fiscal havoc when the economy had an inevitable downturn. Such a downturn killed The Drift before one shovel of dirt was turned, due to an unforeseen pandemic.
In Ward 1, 6 of 9 acres comprising part of a $10.6M ($4.3M of it borrowed) 19 acre land purchase were sold to a multi-state developer consortium for $1.6M to build 200 units of “market rate” ($425K median price) housing, reserving "up to" 70 additional "affordable" units, which Engen declared “a game-changer” while his delighted Housing Director Eran Pehan explained those 70 units are reserved for $94K per year households -- making them “affordable” for a four-member family only if BOTH parents each work 40 hours per week for $23 per hour. Yet Ms. Pehan pooh-poohed regulating Missoula’s 360 B&Bs in order to provide additional rental units, because that’s "too few to affect the housing market." This, while a third of Missoulians struggle on less than $25K per year.
This inconsistency -- 70 (un)affordable units costing millions are “game changing” whereas 360 B&Bs “aren’t enough to affect the market” – is explained by oligarchs’ lack of profit from B&B regulation, whereas they immensely profit from TIF abuses. $4.3M
spent on jobs for our labor force to build alongside Habitat for Humanity on banked land would yield many more, TRULY affordable dwellings.
We just learned that Engen’s 9-year-old pledge to “end homelessness in Missoula in 10 years” really meant attaining “functional zero,” i.e. Missoulians made houseless each month should not exceed the number already houseless who attain housing.
Sixteen years of enticing multi-millionaires’ relocation here has radically transformed demographics such that FORTY-PLUS PERCENT of our residents now derive ALL of their income from dividends and COLLECTING RENTS, giving Missoula the dubious distinction of ranking 33rd among all U.S. cities in wealth inequality.
This is not a partisan “liberal vs. conservative” issue. Defeat the shills for powerful interests recruited to oppose reform candidates. Elect alderpersons who will foster city government that is clean, lean and green.