It seems that housing affordability took center stage these last two weeks. Here is a quick wrap up of the presentations that we heard.
January 23rd – The City’s Director of Housing & Community Development, Eran Pehan, brought together the various stakeholders of the Reaching Home Initiative also known as the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness to give us their annual update. Our leaders in the governmental, medical, non-profit and faith-based communities are extremely committed to reducing the numbers of the most vulnerable people exposed to homelessness, as evidenced by the Coordinated Entry System [CES]. Imagine for just a moment how tough it is to be on the streets and having to figure out where to go for help. Previously you had to travel from one agency to another, complete new paperwork at each place, and hope for the best. The CES has simplified the process immensely for the clients as well as those trying to make their lives better. They now have a hotline to call if you come across someone who needs housing at 211, or 549-HOPE after hours
January 24th, the Committee of the Whole [COW] visited with Missoula Correctional Services and learned of the pre-release program they provide for those who opt to transition from prison to community life on a supervised basis. Their program is cost-shared between the resident and the State of Montana and provides many opportunities of supportive life skills that perhaps you and I may take for granted. Upon completion, these folks typically transition into our society with much lower rates of recidivism and their odds of success are much greater. However, those who don’t qualify for the pre-release program end up facing much more difficult odds at finding housing or jobs that allows those with felony convictions – which needless to say oftentimes forces them to commit further crimes to put food in their belly or a roof over their heads.
January 26th – The Bureau of Business &Economic Research put on their Annual Economic Outlook Seminar focusing on the Future of Higher Education. There was optimism in the room of the economic future across the State, but again the strain of rising home prices due to low inventories was a major concern for attracting business to relocate to Missoula. Contributing factors include regulations and policy, soaring material costs, and decline of laborers since the Great Recession.
January 30th – The Missoula Organization of Realtors [MOR] hosted the Making Missoula Home presentation. Daniel Werwath of Werwath Associates (a community development consultant) reminded us of what we believe to be true: that we suffer a terrible lack of affordable/attainable housing. The median home price in 2001 was $138,000 and in 2017 it jumped to $255,000, 85% increase over 16 years or 5.31% increase average per year. Unfortunately, wages have not kept pace with housing costs. In order for a household of four to qualify for that price range with 4% down payment, they have to earn roughly $89,916/year to keep that within a recommended 30% of income. Let’s back that number out a bit to put it in perspective.
$89,916 / 2,080 hours’ year for full time work = $43.22/hour on a pre-tax basis
How many jobs in Missoula pay that rate? Nowhere near enough. And so families must work multiple jobs to feed, clothe and house themselves leaving very little for the extras in life. Alarmingly, 12,000 or 41% of households within the City limits are considered “cost-burdened”, and that number skyrockets to 69% for renters earning less than $35,000/year.
January 31st – The Committee of the Whole listened as Vanessa Crossgrove Fry, MBA, Assistant Director of the Idaho Policy Institute and Assistant Research Professor of the School of Public Service, presented the math side of the chronic homeless issue. Have you ever considered the cost of what it takes our community to address chronic homeless cases? Vanessa presented numbers reflecting Boise, Idaho a community similar to ours in many ways and provided this story in numbers for “Joe”:
11 Emergency Service transports to hospital = $15,000
13 Hospital visits + $26,000
14 arrests, 22 convictions + $ 3,000
95 days in jail + $10,000
Currently in Missoula we have roughly 42 chronic homeless folks x $54,000 = $2,268,000/ year is spent on REACTIVE responses. Vanessa challenged us to think about addressing the problem from a PROACTIVE vantage point that requires the collaborative efforts of the non-profit, public and private sectors in order to reverse the trend. If we were to mimic what Boise has done with a Housing First intervention model, the cost of supplying decent supportive housing shrinks to $22,000 per person as per the cost-benefit analysis she demonstrated.
Not only do we have an ethical responsibility to ensure that people who may be dealing with addiction or mental health issues and therefore need support, but as a City Councilor we have the obligation as a trustee of the City’s finances to ensure that we are spending taxpayer’s money in the best possible way. Going forward, we will be considering all possibilities of affecting public policy that can contribute to making Missoula attainable for all, not just the lucky few.
If you have ideas that would help us in this endeavor, we are all ears.