Special Report: Caught in Missoula’s low income housing squeeze

Posted at 2:47 PM, Mar 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-08 18:11:42-05

MISSOULA – There are some in Missoula who are below the poverty line to the point they can’t afford rent prices and are on a long waiting list for assistance.

Unfortunately, for those who have managed to find a place to call home, their humble shelters are vanishing. They find themselves caught between community growth, the law and their bank accounts.

It’s a trend growing across the country — trailer homes and especially the lots they sit on, are being replaced with new apartments, condos or homes.

Private property owners – respectively- are upgrading these rental lots. It’s a trend that’s forced some renters to look for a new place to live and that’s tough when their current living situation is the only thing they can afford.

Additionally, sometimes their trailers are too old to legally relocate – even if they could lot rental somewhere else. It’s a situation that’s happening on Strand Avenue in Missoula where the private property owners were granted a rezoning ordinance from the city to build up to 12 new units where several trailers now sit.

The decision leaves the current occupants — including a single mother — with a limited amount of time to find a new home before they are evicted.

Mobile Homes
It’s a trend growing across the country — trailer homes and especially the lots they sit on, are being replaced with new apartments, condos or homes. (MTN News photo)

“I don’t’ know what I am going to do. For the first time in my life, I’m really scared because I have a little girl depending on me to make the right choices,” said the resident, Calleen.

She lives on a fixed income, has credit challenges and struggles with mental health. And there are many like Calleen who are dealing with similar challenges.

“Just because we’re poor doesn’t mean we are poor of character. It just means we’re poor. It doesn’t mean we are unintelligent – it doesn’t mean we have anything to offer our community!” Calleen said.

“It just means we fell on hard times – we were fortunate enough to find a place to call our own that we could afford, but now rezoning and nothing but questions.”

Although being evicted, Calleen does not blame the private property owners, saying that they can’t afford to lose money on their end, either. She’s looked to the Missoula City Council for answers, but city officials say their hands are tied as well.

Ward 6 Council Member Julie Merrit says under current regulations the City of Missoula cannot stop the eviction from happening based simply on human condition.

“The City of Missoula has been sued in the past for making land use decisions based on emotions rather than the criteria that are set up in the regulations,” Merrit said.

“As much as that’s painful in this particular situation the next person that comes in the door needs to know that we aren’t going to make decisions based on ideology,” she added.

(MTN News photo)

Merritt, along with her fellow Ward 6 council member Michelle Cares say there is no pot of money set aside to help residents displaced by land use decisions.

Cares adds that legislatively there is an unfortunate stigma attached to trailer homes — even though it is the most affordable option for people like Calleen.

“We are committed to working with her to try and find a good solution, but she is one of many,” Cares said. Skyview trailer parks on Ward 1 — 34 households were evicted more than a year ago. There is still nothing on that land that is housing for those people or anyone else.

Merritt and Cares told MTN News they will support housing policy that takes Calleen and people like her into account.

The two added that at the state level there is an effort to move forward a bill that would provide funds for construction of low-income housing projects.

Many low-income residents that qualify for housing assistance are often left on a long waiting list meaning that a mobile home is often the only affordable option.

Reporting by Kent Luetzen for MTN News