Hello Councilmembers,

My comments this evening relate to two of the rezoning items on your docket. I’ll address them both together, although they seem very different projects.

What is strikingly similar about them is that they are both potent examples of lost opportunity. That loss comes to fore because we have not yet found the political will to engage and enact policies of inclusion for our workforce now priced out of an increasingly inequitable housing market.

In terms of the new Heron’s Landing annexation/subdivision, if inclusionary zoning policies were now in effect here, at a reasonable 20 percent required level of permanent affordability, at build out our community’s workforce would gain 69 home ownership opportunities and a future multiplier effect with resales over many years.

Most developers will argue that, of necessity, the remaining homes would need to be more expensive to cover these upfront costs.  Does it not seem certain that the Teton Land and Development Group will charge whatever the market will bear for all of the homes as they come on line?  If our current market conditions prevail, I believe it highly likely that more than 20 percent of those homes will sell to speculative market absentee-owners, many of whom may live out of town or out of state and that if our current market experience continues, many of those homes will begin to flip to prices in excess of what the added cost of IZ units would have been to the project to begin with.

I have sent the following quote from a housing study of the National Bipartisan Policy Center to Council before.  I continue to find it prescient: “[Affordability] steps are not easy, and they also can be expensive. But as a general rule, these policies are likely to be less expensive and more effective if adopted earlier in the lifecycle of neighborhood change. Policies that build affordability into new development (such as inclusionary zoning) as well as policies that capitalize on new development to generate revenue for affordable housing (such as linkage fees) are arguably self-financing strategies that do not require the appropriation of funds; they only generate affordable units and funding for affordable units while growth is taking place. They are thus most effective when adopted before the bulk of new development has occurred.”

In terms of the 601 West Broadway re-zoning, I’ve not heard discussion about any affordability related to the condos proposed there. Perhaps that conversation has happened outside my awareness, but we should all recognize that affordable aspirations have been part of city planning for a good while. The Downtown Master Plan challenges the City to produce 2,705 units of primarily high-density rental infill with some condominium and townhome development complementing.  The Plan “encourages the development of a significant number of affordable housing units within each district,” of which the Fox Triangle site is one.  It also recommends inclusion of “affordable housing at a ratio of four market rate buildings per one affordable building in all planned housing districts.”  How will this ever be accomplished without the tools in place to do it?

I believe not being able to cause this inclusion is a community failing on our part, and I include myself in that failure because of my lack of the persuasive abilities needed to have already caused the policies so necessary – policies to, at least partially, stem the tide of exclusion we now experience.  Twenty years ago, I became involved in the community land trust effort in Missoula.  In that period, the NMCDC has developed 54 homes. Heron’s Landing subdivision, on its own, could be contributing significantly more than that number.

We can, and should, be doing better, together.

Bob Oaks

E.D., NMCDC