Daniel Carlino: Re-legalize missing middle housing, commercially zoning vacation rentals | Columnists

DANIEL CARLINO

Inflation continues to saddle families and neighbors with unprecedented hardship with no clear sign of relief. But for many Missoulians, our worsening lack of affordable housing has normalized destabilization. Surging rents, renovations, and AirBnB conversions have left neighbor after neighbor behind. Low-income seniors, hospitality workers, domestic violence survivors & young families have disproportionately been faced with overcoming the dirty word on everyone’s mouth: The Housing Crisis.

While we anticipate new housing being built, over 4% of the housing in Ward 3 is already short-term vacation rentals. This means that at least 1 in 25 homes that may have been previously available for leasing are now for the exclusive use of the tourism industry.

We just received our vacation rental study and now the city is embarking on our zoning and building code reform process. This is a unique opportunity to address the imminent need for housing that is truly affordable to those who call Missoula home.

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Walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with multifamily housing are a cherished part of Missoula’s character. Your local bakery, coffee spot and laundromat are within walking distance of your affordable, historic apartment. It has a shared yard and good neighbors. Now, building these fixtures is illegal in much of Missoula. Single-family homes and vacation rentals are the exclusive legal building in the vast majority of residential neighborhood blocks.

To achieve an ambitious portfolio of housing supply and ultimately create an affordable market, the city must re-legalize the missing middle housing. Think townhomes, duplexes, three-plexes, four-plexes, and mixed-use buildings. The best of these are those with mixed-use, like much of Ward 3’s Hip Strip. We can replicate this and bring development that makes sense to our community. Moderate density properties like four-plexes will bring felt relief to the rental market. It will make good use of existing walking and biking infrastructure and perhaps even be a cause for more.

I am proposing updates to the City of Missoula’s zoning that allows for greater, relevant to character, in-fill to benefit Missoulians. We can do both by creating diverse housing opportunities across the city, while working to change the zoning of vacation rentals to the hotel category.

Both are fair to neighbors who have anxiously ridden the wave of Missoula’s rapid growth. We’ve all felt it — busier trails, longer lines at your favorite coffee shop, and higher rents. Our zoning was not set up for what we are facing now. But we can do something now by ensuring development is preserving and growing what we already love.

The city can re-legalize the missing middle housing alongside property owners by restoring their freedom to convert properties into multi-family housing units. This will again bring relief to the market but at a faster pace as such projects do not require major construction or development costs.

As we increase Missoula’s housing stock, it is paramount that units serve the needs of Missoulians. Neighbors should not be asked to accommodate growth if it is going to amount to vacation rentals taking over long-term rentals and homes. Many people never meant to raise families or retire next to AirBnBs. It comes at the expense of all of us. We can put an end to it.

Zoning is the same reason your neighbor is not an industrial factory or gas station. Residentially zoned properties would be homes for Missoulians again, and ultimately we can create more housing stock, not more residential hotels.

We’re at risk of the city proposing lukewarm solutions to our unprecedented housing crisis. Please use your voice throughout the city’s zoning engagement process to advocate for re-legalizing missing middle housing and ending vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.

Daniel Carlino represents Ward 3 on the Missoula City Council.

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