Madison County housing shortage
Different ways to approach the affordable housing crisis
Madison County Housing Advisory Board is conducting an online survey this month. The results of the survey will help direct the board toward addressing Madison County’s housing shortage in way that benefits its residents.
Habitat for Humanity’s Homeownership Program is accepting applications from individuals and families in need of affordable housing for 10 individual lots in Ennis, Montana, through September. The program enables low income households, earning $45,000 or less annually,
whom are financially responsible to a path of homeownership.
Business owners like Jan Janura are buying property for employees to rent. Employers’ face an additional source of cost and liability with providing housing for their employees, but
many in Madison County have few choices, if any.
“Without stable housing everything else falls apart,” Madison County Housing Advisory Board member, Cindy Gockel said.
Housing costs have increased more than income in Montana, meaning a larger portion of a household’s income has to go toward housing, according to a 2018 Montana Economic Report from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana. Montanans spend roughly 10 percentage point more of their income to housing than in 1990.
“In many Montana markets, homebuyers face high prices.” Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, Bryce Ward wrote in the 2018 Montana Economic Report. “Prices are high relative to other parts of the country. They are high relative to the incomes typically earned by Montanans. They are also high relative to the cost of building a house.”
According to the Montana Budget and Policy Center, federal dollars and private donations are the main funding sources for housing assistance programs in Montana. The state doesn’t spend any money on housing assistance, and federal funding is at a decade-low level. As a result, local governments are using their own resources to address and fund affordable housing projects.
Madison County loaned Habitat for Humanity $60,000 interest free for five years to purchase the land that will be developed into 10 affordable homes. The property for this project is along Otis Avenue in Ennis.
Local governments providing capital support for housing developing projects is one way to
encourage the construction of affordable housing. Developers have more incentive to
build affordable housing because their overhead is reduced, and they can afford to make less on the return.
The funding support for the Habitat for Humanity’s project in Ennis was received from both
ends of the spectrum with the county and the developer, North 40 Development Company Inc., supporting the project. Josh Vujovich, part owner of North 40 Development Company Inc., was able to offer a deal on a little over an acre, selling the plot at a lower price than market value.
The median property value in Madison County was 1.16 times higher than the national average in 2017, at $252,200, according to Data USA, the most comprehensive website and visualization
engine of public U.S. Government data. Results from the Montana Department of Revenue’s biennial reappraisal revealed that Madison County had the largest average increase of residential property values in the state this year. From 2018 to 2019 residential property valuesin Madison County increased nearly 29 percent.
Janura, owner of several properties and business in the Ennis area, is constructing an eight-plex apartment across from the Ennis Homestead. The apartments will partially as employee housing and partially affordable housing for the community, according to Michael Casey, Janura’s long time contractor.
After the 2008 recession, the Madison County Housing Task Force lost momentum and faded away. It was resurrected the spring of 2018 as the Housing Advisory Board. A dedicated group is starting from scratch. While they assess the county of its housing needs, they’ll be looking at zoning and ordinances in Madison County towns. Any opportunity to change a zoning area to allow residential use could improve the likelihood for more dense, affordable housing to be built, according to Gockel.
Gockel joined the Housing Advisory Board after speaking with young professionals trying to make a living in Madison County. She kept hearing stories of housing being a major contributer to their struggle to remain in the county.
“I wanted to be a part of finding solutions,” Gockel said.
Ground breaking on any projects from the Housing Advisory Board are about three years out, according to Gockel. The first step in solving the affordable housing shortage is gathering data. The online survey takes about 10 minutes and will only be available during August. The more survey participation, the more effective the future solutions can be. Neon yellow, postcard-sized flyers can be found throughout the county with the online information, or go to www.surveymonkey.com/r/housequest to take the survey.
“Finding affordable housing is a solvable problem,” Gockel said. “There are multiple ways to approach it.”