Carlino calls for ‘missing’ housing and zoning of vacation rentals

Daniel Carlin

Daniel Carlino, Missoula Ward 3 City Council

Daniel Carlin

Inflation continues to subject families and neighbors to unprecedented hardship with no clear signs of relief. But for many Missoul residents, our growing lack of affordable housing has normalized destabilization.

Soaring rents, renovations and AirBnB conversions have left neighbor after neighbor. Low-income seniors, hospitality workers, domestic violence survivors and young families have disproportionately had to overcome the big word on everyone’s mouth: the housing crisis.

Although we anticipate the construction of new homes, more than 4% of the homes in Ward 3 are already short-term vacation rentals. This means that at least 1 in 25 accommodations that were previously available for rental are now for the exclusive use of the tourism industry.

We just received our vacation rental study and now the city is beginning its process of zoning and building code reform. This is a unique chance to meet the looming need for truly affordable housing for those who call Missoula home.

Mixed-use pedestrian neighborhoods with multi-family housing are an integral part of Missoula’s character. Your local bakery, cafe and laundromat are within walking distance of your affordable historic apartment. It has a common courtyard and good neighbors.

Now, building these fixtures is illegal in much of Missoula. Single family homes and vacation rentals are the exclusive legal construction in the vast majority of residential neighborhood blocks.

To achieve an ambitious housing supply portfolio and eventually create an affordable market, the city must re-legalize the missing intermediate housing. Think townhouses, duplexes, triplexes, quadruplexes and mixed-use buildings.

The best of these are the mixed-use ones, like much of Ward 3’s Hip Strip. We can replicate that and bring development that makes sense to our community. Moderate density properties like quadruplexes will provide significant relief to the rental market. It will make good use of the existing walking and cycling infrastructure and perhaps even do more.

I propose updates to the City of Missoula’s zoning that allow for more character-relevant infill 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 hotel category.

Both are fair for neighbors who have been eagerly riding 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 established for what we are facing now. But we can do something now by ensuring that development preserves and expands on what we already love.

The city can re-legalize missing intermediate housing alongside landlords restoring their freedom to convert properties to multi-family housing. This will relieve the market again, but at a faster pace, as such projects do not require large construction or development costs.

As we increase Missoula’s housing stock, it is paramount that units meet the needs of Missoulians. Neighbors shouldn’t be asked to accommodate growth if it means vacation rentals taking precedence over long-term rentals and homes. Many people never intended to raise a family or retire next to AirBnB. This is done to the detriment of all of us. We can put an end to it.

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

We risk seeing the city come up with lukewarm solutions to our unprecedented housing crisis. Please use your voice throughout the city’s zoning engagement process to advocate for the re-legalization of missing mid-range housing and an end to vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.

Daniel Carlino represents Ward 3 on the Missoula City Council

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