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Missoula, MT

Missoula Housing Profiles

Locality: Missoula, Montana (USA)
City Population: 73,710 (2019)

Plan Title: A Place to Call Home: Meeting Missola’s Housing Needs
Date of Plan: June 2019
Date of Case Study: March 2021

Substantive highlights

Surrounded by picturesque mountain ranges and rivers, the historically working-class city of Missoula, Montana has increasingly attracted new residents and high-paying jobs from the technology sector over the past several years. In 2016 alone, Missoula County experienced an 86 percent increase in net migration relative to 2015, and the city’s increased demand for new housing has greatly outpaced production, causing housing prices to rise. Between 2018 and 2019, median home sale prices increased by $15,000 to over $300,000, well above what a household making the county’s median income could afford. 

To address these affordability issues, on June 24, 2019, the Missoula City Council adopted its first comprehensive city-wide housing plan named “A Place to Call Home: Meeting Missoula’s Housing Needs.” The strategy was developed over a two-year-long collaboration process among city staff and the community and aims to create a set of “Guiding Principles” and policy solutions that can encourage an additional supply of homes and increase access to affordable units. The strategy focuses on four main policy areas (“Policy Action Areas”) to encourage production, preservation, and access to affordable housing. 

Guiding principles:

  • Diversity: A healthy housing market includes options and resources for all Missoulians. 
  • Innovation: A commitment to innovation will ensure that this Housing Policy is as dynamic as the community it aims to serve. 
  • Collaboration: Missoula’s Housing Policy relies on the collaborative spirit of this community and strong public-private partnerships.
  • Achievability: While the goals of this Housing Policy are ambitious, they are also achievable. They reflect realistic projections of city resources and the opportunities the city has at its disposal.

Policy action areas:

  1. Track and analyze progress for continuous improvement
  2. Align and leverage existing funding resources to support housing
  3. Reduce barriers to new supply and promote access to affordable homes
  4. Partner to create and preserve dedicated affordable homes


To inform the development of the housing strategy, in 2017, the city conducted a housing gaps-and-needs assessment called “Making Missoula Home: A Path to Attainable Housing.” The mixed-methods analysis revealed that the city faced significant and growing affordability gaps for both renters and homeowners, with the most considerable affordability challenges facing renters at or below 50 percent of the area’s median income (AMI). Further, larger apartments suitable for families were priced too high for households as high as 80 percent AMI. The report concluded by identifying several constraints facing the city’s housing market and providing a detailed list of policy recommendations to address them.

In 2018, the Mayor appointed a Housing Policy Steering Committee of community leaders and city staff to review the assessment results and propose initial policy recommendations. The Steering Committee delivered their preliminary recommendations in August of 2018 to five separate Technical Working Groups (see figure 1 below). These Working Groups were formed by community volunteers and city staff and were tasked with turning the Steering Committee’s recommendations into actionable and practical policies. 

Figure 1: Housing Policy Bodies

In a parallel effort, staff in the Office of Housing & Community Development engaged with Missoula’s residents to gather their feedback on the community’s housing issues and proposed policies. In addition, a student group canvassed five community neighborhoods, engaging residents in conversation and surveys. In total, city staff met with over 400 Missoulians, whose feedback was continuously shared with the Technical Working Groups to create a “clear, community-driven vision” for the final Housing Strategy. After nine months and over 40 meetings, the Work Groups completed their efforts in April 2019 and presented their housing policy recommendations to the City Council in May.

The Office of Housing & Community Development drafted the final comprehensive housing strategy, balancing the Working Groups’ recommendations with city resources, planning efforts, and workflows. The final “A Place to Call Home” Strategy was adopted by the council on June 24, 2019. 

Metrics, targets, and implementation

Although the plan does not list any numeric targets for housing production or financial investment, Missoula’s housing strategy commits to create a series of programs and systems designed to encourage production, preservation, and access to affordable housing. The strategy describes the city’s plans for the four Policy Action Areas as follows:

1) Track and analyze progress for continuous improvement

  • Develop housing program outcome goals and metrics: The city plans to develop a regular process of assessing housing needs and gaps, including the development of annual housing program outcome goals and measurement of programs’ impacts, which would be reported in an annual and a five-year report.

2) Align and leverage existing funding resources to support housing

  • Establish an Affordable Housing Trust Fund: To fund its affordable housing activities, the city will establish a perpetual, dedicated funding source for housing. In addition, the plan recommends developing a strategic process for allocating city resources for affordable housing activities.
  • Support a New Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Financing Tools: To preserve affordable housing and expand consumer lending products, the city will support new CDFI Financing Tools through high-leverage public investments.

3) Reduce barriers to new supply and promote access to affordable homes

  • Incentivize Affordable Housing Development: The city intends to create more meaningful incentives to support the development of below-market housing that would otherwise not be built.
  • Support housing consumers: The city intends to create a more robust public support system for housing programs that build the pipeline of educated, empowered consumers. These programs are essential to the success of all other areas of housing program development.
  • Promote Infill through Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Development: The city plans to update its ADU regulations to lower the cost of construction, incentivize the development of rent-controlled homes, and promote accessible rental infill in all areas of the city.

4) Partner to create and preserve affordable homes

  • Preserve Existing Affordable Housing: To preserve existing affordable housing, the city intends to create a systematic program and develop new financing tools to promote the preservation of subsidized and naturally affordable housing.
  • Support Affordable Rental Development: By utilizing the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, the city will support developing a consistent pipeline of new affordable rental housing that adds a significant number of homes on an annual basis.
  • Expand Affordable Homeownership Options: To increase the housing supply of units affordable to households earning below 120% AMI, the city will leverage city land donations, as well as profits created by housing development, to catalyze a nonprofit-led, mixed-income development model that will create a significant number of subsidized homeownership opportunities while also significantly adding to the stock of affordable market-rate housing.

Implementation status

The Plan was adopted in June 2019.  As of March of 2021, the following activities had been completed:

  • In late 2020, the Office of Housing & Community Development merged with the former Development Services Department to create Community Planning, Development & Innovation. This departmental realignment will further the housing policy implementation efforts and align under the mission to “promote equitable growth and a resilient, sustainable community through the creation of innovative programs, policies and planning, and the efficient and responsive application of code and delivery of development services.” Under the new CPDI, city officials plan to implement the plan’s regulatory recommendations during 2021.
  • Develop housing program outcome goals and metrics (Policy Action Area 1): The city’s Housing and Community Development Department staff are drafting the outline of the Assessment Report and collecting initial data.
  • Adopted an Affordable Housing Trust Fund (HFT) Ordinance and Funding Commitments Resolution (Policy Action Area 2): In pursuit of its goal to create a dedicated funding pool for housing (Policy Action Area 2), Missoula’s City Council adopted an Affordable Housing Trust Fund (HFT) Ordinance and Funding Commitments Resolution on July 20, 2020. The ordinance works to identify the initial source of dedicated funding and restricts its allowable uses to support affordable housing. 

At the start of 2021, city officials work to create a citizen oversight committee for the Trust Fund, aiming to keep residential engagement central to the implementation efforts.

  • Progress towards its goal of developing CDFIs financing tools (Policy Action Area 2): At the time this case study was written, the city’s Public-Private Housing Finance Group has met four times with lending stakeholders to examine products and collectively discuss their expansion. They are currently working with City and County Chief Financial Officers to consider City Loan Guarantees. 
  • Updated Land Use Codes to Facilitate ADUs (Policy Action Area 3): The City adopted the recommended changes to update the city’s ADU regulations and Land Use Codes on October 19, 2020. These changes relaxed owner-occupancy rules, parking requirements, and increased height allowances.
  • Created a List of Expiring Affordable Properties (Policy Action Area 4): The city’s Housing & Community Development department created and continues to maintain a list of affordable rental properties facing subsidy expiration. In addition, the department has begun to work with community partners to strategize on how to preserve them. 

Other goals and recommendations with at least some degree of progress are available on the city’s Place to Call Home website.

Coverage of four policy pillars

Not Covered Moderate FocusA pillar is a Moderate Focus of a housing strategy when the strategy addresses it, but in a minor or secondary way, such as by including only one policy of modest projected impact from the pillar. Substantial FocusA pillar is a Substantial Focus of a housing strategy when the strategy includes policies falling within multiple functional subcategories of that pillar or at least one policy projected to have a large impact.
Create and preserve dedicated affordable housing units
Promote affordability by reducing barriers to new supply
Help households access private-market homes
Protect against displacement and poor housing conditions

Participating agencies

No Role Supporting Role Leading Role
Office of the Mayor
Office of Housing & Community Development
Finance/Tax Department
Public Housing Authority
City/County Council

Policy tools

The Plan includes the following policy tools:

Track and analyze progress for continuous improvement

  • Create a system for annual housing program assessments.
  • Undertake a five-year comprehensive assessment.
  • Create new methods for collecting rental housing cost and vacancy data.
  • Create an annual process for goal setting for City-supported housing programs and housing development.

Align and leverage existing funding resources to support housing

  • Adopt a trust fund ordinance or resolution inclusive of the range of contemplated housing programs and investments.
  • Align existing funding sources into the trust fund allocation process.
  • Explore new funding sources, including City general operating funds, mill-levy, special districts, special improvement districts, bond funding, and private equity.
  • Convene lending stakeholders to expand CDFI products, such as acquisition and long-term financing tools, that could help affordable housing providers better compete against investors and private capital.
  • Consider City loan guarantees to support below-market lending products.

Reduce barriers to new supply

  • Create an affordable housing incentive program that defines program eligibility and beneficiaries.
  • Amend city code to include formal land-use incentives for producing below-market rental and ownership homes.
  • Pursue changes to general land-use code that reduce development costs while maintaining community quality, such as increasing the city’s minimum parcel size, relaxing parking requirements, property setbacks, etc. Consider hiring a consultant to conduct a zoning audit that helps quantify how affordability is distributed geographically with the goal of increasing the amount and geographic distribution of land appropriately zoned to support affordable housing development.
  • Provide more regulatory flexibility for an urban subdivision process.
  • Develop a Park Master Planning to provide the acquisition of larger public parklands in park deficit areas and in neighborhoods likely to see large amounts of affordable housing development.
  • Update ADU regulations and land use code to encourage the construction of new ADUs by relaxing regulations around parking, setbacks, unit size and height and owner occupancy.
  • Incentivize construction of below-market and voucher-preference ADU units.
  • Set goals for increased ADU production and below-market ADU creation.

Promote access to affordable homes

  • Expand City support for housing services:
    • Dedicate at least $200,000 a year for housing services financial support.
    • Explore and develop new funding sources to support expanded areas of housing services such as transportation and energy efficiency education grants
    • Create financial support mechanisms for administration of the community’s permanent affordable Community Land Trust housing stock
  • Increase community awareness and access to services:
    • Integrate housing services awareness into City housing outreach and education campaigns and make sure these campaigns use a variety of modes of communication including online, print, and radio.
    • Create a consumer service portal.
    • Convene an annual meeting of key housing service providers with real estate industry representatives and other potential community partners to raise awareness about services and facilitate new collaborations and partnerships.
  • Implement a collaborative community informational campaign to increase public awareness about ADU options and processes.
  • Expand access to construction and long-term financing, particularly for lower-income homeowners.

Partner to preserve affordable homes

  • Track affordable rental properties facing expiring affordable housing use.
  • Develop new preservation financing tools in partnership with CDFIs, including:
    • Multifamily acquisition loan guarantee and repair loans
    • Multifamily down payment assistance
    • ROC Land loan guarantee
    • A small home repair loan program
  • Adopt a policy to address displacement of mobile home communities for City-funded projects.
  • Establish a mobile home infrastructure assistance program.
  • Create an acquisition program for Community Land Trusts.

Partner to create affordable homes

  • Create a formal support program for projects seeking 9% tax credits.
  • Develop by-right incentives for LIHTC development
  • Support the pursuit of special-purpose vouchers to allocate to future 4% projects
  • Explore an entrepreneurial nonprofit development approach to catalyze affordable housing construction and generate new housing program funding:
  • Donate City-owned land for affordable housing development:
    • Create a formal program for annual land donation for nonprofit driven development
    • Adopt a long-term strategy for land acquisition of high-opportunity sites

Income groups targeted

Little/No Focus Moderate Focus Substantial Focus
0-30% AMI
30-60% AMI
60-80% AMI
80-120% AMI
Market Rate

Key policy objectives or issues addressed

Which linkages with housing are addressed?

  • ✓ Transportation
  • ✓ Education
  • ✓ Health

Which local funding sources are proposed?

The Plan proposes the consideration of a number of new funding sources:

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