BOULDER – The Tri-County Housing Task Force is undertaking a new effort to better understand housing needs in Lewis and Clark, Broadwater and Jefferson Counties.

On Wednesday, the group hosted a focus group consisting of business owners, county commissioners and ordinary citizens in Boulder to discuss questions surrounding current housing needs, trends and other observations.

About a half dozen senior citizens also spoke about their desire for affordable housing which they say is especially important on a fixed income.

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However, Bob Gleich, owner of small construction company Baycam Enterprises said the idea of affordable housing in Jefferson County isn’t new. Gleich attempted to create affordable housing as far back as 2007 when he said housing prices were beginning to skyrocket.

“Boulder was in need of lower priced homes,” Gleich said.

Gleich set out to provide those lower priced homes, expecting that first-time home buyers and the elderly would be interested in the single-story, affordable homes which ran as low as $150,000.

While Gleich was correct that there was a demand for the homes, the buyers weren’t who he thought.

“It was very easy to sell 1,500 sq. ft. of home…but the people buying those homes weren’t first-time home buyers nor were they senior citizens,” Gleich said.

Indeed, seniors at the meeting expressed their desire to downsize from larger homes to smaller homes that are closer to city services but acknowledged their budgets may not allow it.

Janet Cornish with Community Development Services of Montana led the focus group and picked up on the seniors’ wishes.

“Our seniors are interested in perhaps downsizing where they’re living,” Cornish said. “[They] aren’t necessarily read for nursing home facilities but are looking for smaller, more accessible and safe places to live.”

Now, there’s a new challenge to creating affordable homes for the elderly.

“Building costs are way, way way up and I don’t know that you can come into a city like Boulder and build these houses and attract the elderly because of the cost,” Gleich said.

Even if cost weren’t an issue, many at the meeting agreed there simply aren’t many places to build.

“We have building lots but those building lots don’t necessarily have adequate infrastructure or aren’t located in an ideal situation,” Cornish said.

Cornish hopes this housing assessment can help fix that. Cornish said the housing report should be completed no later than this fall. That data can then be used by housing authorities to better serve the community.