Everyone knows that you can’t afford to live in Missoula anymore, not unless you’re transplanting yourself from some other state.
You see, if you made your money elsewhere, chances are good you can afford to buy a house or condo or even afford the sky-high rent here.
If you didn’t make your money elsewhere, well...good luck.
The current housing market is a mess, with the median price for a house now topping $330,000, though some say it’s up to $355,900.
Remember, that’s just the median price. When I was knocking on doors this summer, one woman in the university district told me that a neighbor’s house had sold for $600,000 in cash.
Currently in the Franklin to the Fort area, home prices are reaching $969,000. Here’s one in the Rattlesnake for $1.5 million. It’s a condo.
2019 was the best year for home sales in the city in the past five years, with 109 total home sales. The average time that those homes sat on the market was 111 days. The median sale price was $315,000.
Currently, 224 houses are listed on the market in Missoula, as well as 38 condos, 17 townhomes, and 16 multi-family homes. An additional 216 pieces of land are up for sale, as well as 75 commercial listings.
It’s clearly a seller’s market at the moment. In fact, home prices are expected to go up by 3.1% in Missoula this year.
I decided to go onto Craigslist and look at apartments in Missoula and their prices. I started with a basic search to see if anything was $500 or under. Amazingly, there were results!
There was a place in Idaho for $410, a one-bedroom in Deer Lodge for $450. Many of the most affordable apartments are in places like Stevensville, Darby, Hot Springs, Hamilton, and Florence. I actually know people that commute the 50 miles from Hamilton to Missoula each day. 500 miles a week. Imagine doing that.
There are one-bedrooms and studios in Missoula, typically student-centered places that are near the university. Here’s one for $495 a month, which requires a $750 deposit and that first month’s rent to move in, or $1,245.
It’s hard for many to come up with that kind of money if they need a place fast. And who moves into places like that? Pretty much people that have no money and have jobs that don’t pay a lot.
Consider the new minimum wage of $8.65 an hour. Perhaps that person is working 40 hours a week and thus making $346 a week, or $692 a paycheck...before taxes. That comes to $1,384 a month.
Let’s say this poor worker only had that much saved up and they wanted to get into that new apartment. They’d then have $139 left over for food, gas, bills, and whatever else they need...let’s not get into the wants, because when you’re living like this, wants are a luxury you can’t afford.
Sadly, I’m seeing too many ads like this one, titled “Working couple seeks Studio or One-bedroom.” Here’s the description:
“Employed couple in their 30s seeks Studio or One-bedroom apartment for rent. We have excellent rental references and good credit. We have no pets. We are quiet, responsible and kind neighbors. We take good care of our living spaces and would be great tenants.”
These people are doing everything right, except for the fact that they’re living in Missoula, Montana.
They’re together, they’re working, they don’t have pets, they have good references, and I’m assuming they don’t abuse drugs and alcohol.
Ideal tenants, except they’re working stiffs and not rich transplants or students playing around with daddy’s money or refugees that the nonprofits are catering to.
In other words, Missoula has no use for them.
Besides Craigslist, I also checked out the top result on Google for “Missoula apartments,” and came up with apartments.com.
This site’s cheapest apartment is $560 in the Roam Student Living center, which was opened up to non-students almost immediately after it opened due to a lack of student demand. This lack of demand comes about because few parents want to send their kids to one of the top rape colleges in the country. Yeah, the $100,000-a-year administrators at UM still haven’t kicked that moniker.
The thing with most places in Roam - this one included - is that it’s not actually a single place, but a 4-bedroom unit that you have to share. And you pay nearly $600 a month for that.
The next most affordable apartment listed on the site is $863 for a 1-bedroom in a huge complex on Mullan. There are just two more apartments in the $800-range listed, and then we get up into the $1,000-range and then the $1,200-range. The most expensive apartment I saw on the site was a whopping $3,484 a month!
We have over 75,000 people living in the City of Missoula, and yet we have just 45 affordable housing communities in the city, and just 2,325 affordable housing units.
Some workers are lucky enough to get rental assistance to help them with rent, but just 713 Missoulians qualify for that at the moment.
The plan is for Missoula to build 450 new affordable rental units over the next three years. I find this to be pie-in-the-sky thinking, as zero new affordable housing units were built in 2018 and I doubt many more were built last year.
There’s really no money in it for developers, so why build that kind of unit? Big homes are much more profitable to build, and that’s what our current housing market supports.
That’s great for the rich transplants, but bad for the common workers that are expected to serve them.
There are no answers to this crisis and the elected officials in Missoula do not care about the problem. When confronted by this problem, they pay lip service to it while doing nothing. Hence the zero affordable housing constructs recently.
And let’s be brutally honest - the mayor, the city council, and the county commission don’t want to see home prices fall.
They want to see home prices rise.
The reason is simple - when homes are worth more, they’re taxed more.
This is a huge gift for a city that has raised taxes every year for the past decade. If home prices continue to rise, the city will get more tax money without having to raise taxes. It’s a win-win for the mayor.
An added benefit is that poor people don’t vote. Who cares if workers can’t find a place to live? They’re not going to vote in the next election anyways so they’re absolutely no threat at all.
Ain’t easy being a working stiff in Missoula, and it’s not gonna get any easier.