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Montana affordable housing crisis seeks varying solutions

Affordable housing crisis seeks varying solutions
Posted at 11:32 AM, Jun 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-09 13:32:19-04

HELENA — Nearly all across the country, prices of housing are up. According to a Washington Post interactive graphic using CoStar data in late April, prices of rental housing is up over 36% from the beginning of 2020 to the beginning of 2022. According to the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency’s data, housing prices in the state are up nearly 39% in that same two-year span.

For example, a rental unit that cost $1,000 in early 2020, now costs $1,360 on average in Lewis and Clark County. A home in Montana that cost $300,000, now costs over $400,000. Even with staggering prices looming over renters and buyers in the state, finding housing is also adding to the issue.

April Jackson is one of those people who aren't just having issues finding affordable housing, but housing in general.

“I have applied to at least 10 to the upwards of like, 12 to 13,” said Jackson.

Jackson recently moved to Helena from Chester, Montana. Jackson said the rental property she was living at with her husband and five children was sold, and they were forced to move. Now, going on five months of searching, Jackson is living with a friend, and her children are staying with family in Chester.

“How has that process [of finding a place to rent] been going?” asked MTN News.

“It hasn't. I mean, I go and I look, and I apply, and I do follow-up calls, and nothing, nothing has come of all of this searching,” said Jackson.

As many searches for housing come to similar outcomes, organizations like the Helena Area Habitat for Humanity and Helena Housing Authority are working to create housing opportunities in the area. But according to each organization's executive directors, it’s not going to be easy, nor will it be quick.

“When the pandemic hit it caused — turned what was a crisis into a true emergency and it really is requiring all of us at all levels to work together. The local government, state government, federal government. It requires the private sector and public sector and the nonprofit sector to kind of come together to come up with solutions," said Helena Housing Authority's executive director Michael O'Neil. "Which is critically important too, so people can stay and live in the community, or work in the community.”

"We have to build more homes. It's as simple as that. And that's a very complicated issue when you break it down, because it's not only about the actual construction of the home, it's about how do we access land that's affordable,” said Helena Habitat executive director Jacob Kuntz.

As a result of what is happening in the community, O'Neil said the Helena Housing Authority is focused on renovating over 300 of the organizations rental units and securing funding to build more affordable housing in the near future.

Kuntz said the Helena Habitat for Humanity is focused on ascertaining more land and opportunities to build homes in the area, but shortages and price increases of land and building materials are pressing.

Kuntz said in order to continue their work at a steady pace, the organization has employed innovative tactics. At a single-family home that was donated to the organization, the property's detached garage was demolished and a second single-family home is being built in its place, while the original one is being renovated.

“We're open to all ideas to solve housing. We're not married to any specific one and thinking that this is the only way to make it happen. And if presented with a unique opportunity to think outside the box and find a way to make something work, we'd absolutely take that and figure it out.”

With solutions to Helena’s housing shortage in their early stages, Jackson says she’s not sure what the next few months hold for her, but she says she has no intentions of going anywhere else.

“I don't know what the next three or four months has to hold for me. I do know that, my friend has been gracious enough to say that I can stay with her, for as long as it takes. That's not my goal. That's not my husband's goal. That is not the goal for our family.”