Those anxiously expecting the Missoula City Council to pass rental occupancy standards were set back last week when Councilmember Lou Ann Crowley withdrew the amendments she proposed to the city’s zoning code after several groups spoke out against them during public comment.
“The people who want this are quite frustrated, but from my point of view, I had to step back and admit that to get anything passed you need a broad base of support,” says Crowley.
Crowley’s new plan is to form a committee made up of City Council members, property managers, homeowners, contractors, neighborhood council members and student groups to find a solution that “works for everyone.”
The measure Crowley introduced would have established a limit of no more than three unrelated adults living in the same unit. In addition, each room occupied by one of the adults would be required to have 75 square feet of living space, with an additional 30 feet for each additional person sleeping in the room.
Nobody denies that there’s a housing problem in Missoula. According to the census data just released, only 49 percent of Missoula residents own their homes, as compared to 67 percent nationally. This is what Crowley says the amendments were intended to combat, but student groups at the university feel that what the new restrictions really will combat are the students themselves.
“It seems that this particular ordinance really was intending to address landowners’ problems with students,” says Lincoln Bauer, director of the university’s Student Political Action group. “What it doesn’t address is that the university is here, and the students are always going to be here. If it weren’t for the university, I doubt most of [the landlords] would be here as well.”
The rental ordinance would have tried to accomplish some of what the council was unable to achieve in 1996, when its proposed occupancy standards were attacked by everyone from student organizations to gay rights groups as being discriminatory.
UM student body president Molly Moon-Neitzel hopes the committee will succeed in breaking down some of the barriers that have built up between the two factions living in the University area.
“I think it’s really time that the university and the community start working to improve homeowner and student relationships rather than maintain our history of confrontation,” Moon-Neitzel says. “It’s absolutely ridiculous that students should be restricted from living with four people in a suitable four-bedroom house.”