Demographics of Our Service Area
The NMCDC's primary constituents are the residents of the Northside, Westside, and Downtown neighborhoods of Missoula. This service area includes all of Missoula north of the Clark Fork River between Russell and Madison Streets. In the summer of 2007, the NMCDC Board of Directors voted to expand the potential service area of its Land Stewardship Program (Missoula's only community land trust) to include the greater metropolitan area. The organization wants to make the housing land trust tool available to the larger community in order to address the emergent housing issues that challenge our region.
As reported in the U.S. 2000 Census, the NMCDC’s traditional Northside, Westside and residential Downtown service area had a population of 8,368 persons, approximately 20 percent greater than ten years before. Based on a similar continuing growth rate, that service area was likely to have become home to more than 10,000 by January of 2007.
In 1999, this area was predominantly moderate- to low-income with 32 percent of its residents living below the poverty line (compared to 11.7 percent nationwide). Both the 1990 and 2000 U.S. Censuses portrayed Missoula's Northside and Downtown residential neighborhoods as the community's poorest. The Westside was relatively less poor but with several census block-group areas of extreme poverty. Jointly, in 1999, the median household income for the Northside and Westside neighborhoods was $22,007. The median household income for downtown Missoula was $12,085. In 1999 dollars, this compared with a median household income of $30,366 for greater Missoula and $41,994 for the nation as a whole.
The Year 2000 U.S. Census also indicated that 37 percent of the neighborhoods’ children under age eighteen and 44 percent of elementary-school-age children lived in poverty. Twelve percent of the total population above 65 years of age lived in extreme poverty (incomes less than 1/2 of the poverty level).
Lowell School is the public elementary school that exclusively serves all three of the NMCDC's service-area neighborhoods. It has one of the highest percentages of below-poverty-level students in the consolidated school district. Lowell reflects the overall neighborhoods' demographics and is atypical of most schools in Western Montana having a high percentage of "non-traditionally structured families." In the 2001-2002 school year 55 percent of the school's children were from single parent families. Seventy-eight percent of the school’s children were eligible for federal free and reduced meal programs in December of 2006.
Missoula, like most urban areas in its region, is not culturally diverse and Lowell's student population reflects the neighborhood. In 2006, only 10 percent of the Lowell student body was from minority populations (most of these minority students were of Native American heritage). Like other Missoula inner city schools, Lowell experienced dramatic decreases in enrollment in the 1990's. Lowell began its 2006 fall semester with 225 students and ended with 220 students. However, the net loss of five students is complicated by the fact that 71 students actually entered or left the school during that same semester (i.e., 33 new students replacing 38 former students in only 4 months). Lowell has suffered from a similarly high student body turnover for at least the past ten years.
Missoula's Northside and Downtown neighborhoods had the city’s highest turnover in tenancy, lowest home ownership rates, and had for a number of years a reputation for crime (perhaps unfairly) and disinvestment. Realtors typically regarded the Northside as one of Missoula's most undesirable neighborhoods. There is strong indication that this reputation is beginning to change and the Northside is increasingly seen as a place for young families to get started (even if this emerging demographic has not yet effected Lowell School).
Now realtors often cite projects initiated by the NMCDC (the pedestrian overpass, outdoor cinema, Project Playground, the Northside Greenway, more than 30 homes purchased through the North Missoula Housing Partnership and the 30 new homes in the NMCDC’s Land Stewardship Program, etc.) as reasons to locate in both the north and westside areas. Houses for sale on the Northide were, at the end of 2006, routinely approaching the $200,000 range. In response, the NMCDC continues its revitalization efforts, but in the context of associated non-gentrifying strategies, like its community land trust program.
A survey on the North and Westsides facilitated by the NMCDC and funded and compiled by the Missoula Office of Planning and Grants (OPG) in 1997, showed that two-thirds of the sampled residents had lived in their neighborhood for less than five years, and over one-third planned to move within five years. In 1997 half of the surveyed neighbors stated they would prefer living in some other neighborhood. Twenty percent of the sampled households included at least one member who was unemployed and looking for work. Burdensome housing costs were one of the neighborhoods' most serious problems. In 1997, 67 percent of the sampled neighborhood households reported that they spent more than 30 percent of their gross incomes on housing.
More current information, gathered from a 2006 OPG survey, indicates that residents’ attitudes about the neighborhoods are beginning to change. Respondents to this survey indicated that people are generally less transient and happier than they were ten years before. In 2006 the number of respondents with more than six years tenure had increased to from 40 to 60 percent. When asked where they would most like to live, 55 percent of the respondents answered “in my neighborhood” (cf., 49 percent in 1997).
Almost half of the 2006 survey respondents report speaking to neighbors daily, regularly sharing in social activities, and helping one another in yard work and home repair projects. When asked to describe how they think the neighborhood has improved in the last five years, the majority of survey residents mentioned their appreciation for the repair and renovation of the neighborhoods’ older housing stock – often undertaken by the new homeowners and young families. People also mentioned improved sidewalk and playground facilities, and a general sense that the neighborhood is being “cleaned up.”
Housing costs remain an onerous burden with 63 percent of the respondents in 2006 reporting rent or mortgage payments exhausting more than 30 percent of their gross incomes (cf., 67 percent in 1997). This is in spite of the fact that 7 percent fewer responding households identified themselves as having members unemployed and looking for work.
In summation, the NMCDC's hard work to turn the negative statistics from 1997 around may be starting to bear fruit -- not only in the organization's projects but also in a shift in public perception about the neighborhoods. More and more, people are starting to look to the Northside, Westside and Downtown neighborhoods as places where "community" is happening. More and more the Board of Directors and staff of the NMCDC realizes that it needs to redouble its efforts to make sure this “community” embraces people of all ages, incomes and abilities.