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Affordable housing still hard to find in Billings; city looks for solutions

One of five cities invited to Housing Solutions Workshop
Mosaic
Posted at 5:31 PM, Oct 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-05 19:31:04-04

BILLINGS — Take a drive around just about any Billings neighborhood right now, and you’re sure to see plenty of "Home For Sale" signs. Sellers continue to try to take advantage of a strong market, at least compared to a couple years ago.

The problem for the buyers? They either can’t afford the high house prices or can’t afford the high mortgage rates, and their Option B of a rental is almost tougher.

"It’s been a struggle," said Shanna Morin. "I've been looking since February."

Morin wants to be a Billings resident. She wants to be able to care for her aging father here. She wants her three kids to go to school here. But she can’t find a house here.

"With the pricing for everything, with the interest rates right now," she said with exhaustion in her voice.

Affordable housing

The average listing price for a Billings home right now is $399,000, according to Realtor.com. That number was $254,900 in February 2020, the month before the COVID-19 pandemic - a 56.5 percent increase.

It's one of the reasons the city of Billings was selected to participate in the Housing Solutions Workshop — a program sponsored by the NYU Furman Center’s Housing Solutions Lab to help small and midsize communities develop and implement comprehensive local housing strategies. A Billings delegation including leaders from HomeFront, HRDC and the Billings Association of Realtors will take part in a series of virtual sessions led by prominent housing experts and researchers.

Morin did eventually find a place to live earlier this year. It was just quite a ways south of Billings, in Lander, Wyoming.

"Which definitely is a hike, 4.5 hours. So it's difficult," she said.

Billings to Lander
After failing to find an affordable house to buy in Billings, Shanna Morin had to move to Lander, Wyoming and commute four and a half hours.

So a few weeks ago, Morin started looking for rentals in Billings, and that hasn’t gone any better.

"It's usually 5-6 families all looking at the same time," she said. "If you’re not the first one through the door, there goes your opportunity."

If you can even afford it. According to tracing website Zumper, the average rent for a 3-bedroom in Billings was $1,250 in February 2020. This past August, it had risen to $1,895.

Affordable rental Billings

"Before we even had them completely built, we had a waiting list of folks," said Eric Basye, executive director of Community Leadership and Development, incorporated on the South Side.

This summer, CLDI opened Mosaic, a six-unit, low-cost senior living facility.

"We've had several tenants say, ‘I’m not leaving this place. It’ll be my home until I die,'" Basye said.

CLDI is charging tenants well below market value on Mosaic, because they can - the project was fully paid for by grants and donors. This winter, CLDI will break ground on Tapestry - a 27-unit low-cost apartment building.

"It’ll be for 40 years mandated that it’s hitting a target population," Bayse said. "It'll be 40-60% of the average median income."

Tapestry CLDI
CLDI hopes to break ground on Tapestry, a 27-unit low-cost apartment complex on Billings southside, by the end of 2022.

Basye sees the need for affordable housing every day, especially in lower-income neighborhoods. Until there’s more of it, Morin will just keep trying. What else can she do?

"It's been really difficult to keep a positive attitude throughout all of it, but you have to," she said. "You have no other option."

Many people know the feeling.