New Montana law aims to keep people in their homes | Brunell

Montana’s legislature took the unusual step of exempting older, less-valued mobile homes from property tax as a way to stem homelessness.

The bipartisan legislation, which Gov. Steve Bullock signed into law last week, aims to keep people in their homes. It exempts mobile and manufactured homes worth less than $10,000 and at least 28 years old from taxation starting next year.

In Montana, a state with just over a million people, there are more than 22,000 residences where owners are in danger of losing their homes and being evicted if they can’t pay their taxes. Legislative staff in Helena estimates at least 45,000 people would end up homeless (figuring an average two people live in each home). The impact of taxes forgone is $170,000 annually.

Proponents argued the state spends more money sending out delinquent tax notices and hiring sheriff’s deputies to post those notices than the taxes collected, according to the Billings Gazette. Often mobile home owners who lose their homes have no place to go. Consequently, the state scrambles to find and pay for temporary shelter while those confiscated mobile homes are sold at auction to the highest bidders.

Missoula community activist Svein Newman told the Gazette many of those homeowners are single working parents and seniors living on fixed incomes. If they lose their home because of a $70 tax bill, they cannot afford a security deposit on an apartment. The reality is replacement housing beyond their financial means.

According to 2017 research by Harvard University, nearly 40 million Americans live in housing they cannot afford. Homeownership has gone down and rental prices keep going up, meaning that millions of residents are forced to pay more than they reasonably can.

For example, Zillow.com reports the median price of a three-bedroom home nationally is $226,700 (March 2019). In Seattle, it was $334,000 and $309,400 in Portland.

If you live in Helena, a two-bedroom apartment with washer and dryer rents for $900 a month. Comparatively, rent in Seattle for a two-bedroom without washer and dryer is $1,600, according to the most recent National Apartment List Rent Report.

One-bedroom apartment rents in King County have climbed 53 percent over the last five years and for every 5 percent increase, 258 people in Seattle become homeless, a Zillow study found.

Finding replacement housing is expensive for taxpayers. In its award-winning 2017 report, the Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ) found that building one affordable apartment in Seattle costs $300,000. The price for building 12,000 units is $3.6 billion.

Washington’s Department of Commerce, which manages statewide data on homelessness, calculated how much it cost for a homeless person in King County to exit to permanent housing for three types of programs: emergency shelter, $14,207; transitional housing (temporary stays in a subsidized project), $12,021; and, rapid rehousing (rental subsidies on the private market), $7,351.

This situation is particularly hard on the working poor. Throughout the U.S., Harvard researchers found, 70 percent of lowest-income households face severe housing cost burdens. That means more than half of their income goes toward housing.

Addressing homelessness is complicated. The growing economic and human impacts are straining budgets at all levels of government, draining charitable organizations and impacting tourism, local merchants and open spaces.

PSBJ spent six months examining the budgets of dozens of nonprofits that work on the issue; city and county budgets; police and emergency calls to encampments and resource centers; hospital services; permanent and temporary housing; and drug treatment and outreach. In 2017, the estimate was $1.06 billion. It now could be more than $2 billion.

Montana’s new approach is worth tracking. Hopefully, it is a prototype which works.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com

More in Opinion

Burgers and fries or trains and rails?

A Sound Transit committee recently removed the Lowe’s/Dick’s site from consideration for… Continue reading

State, feds splash and clash over Washington’s water quality

President Donald Trump is ready to give Washington the clean water rules… Continue reading

Washington’s big tax bump | Brunell

With the dust settling from the 2019 legislative session, the focus is… Continue reading

KCLS fosters connections with local governments and library advocates

King County Library System fosters connections with local governments and library advocates… Continue reading

E-waste reduction requires innovative approaches

The vast majority of e-waste isn’t handled in an environmentally friendly way

Gov. Jay Inslee. REPORTER FILE PHOTO
From climate change to health care, Democrats advance governor’s agenda

Jay Inslee looks to be enjoying his best legislative session as governor.… Continue reading

More hatchery fish needed

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) plans to strategically release… Continue reading

Montana woman recognized among Fortune’s greatest world leaders

Imagine sitting home and learning Fortune Magazine just listed you among the… Continue reading

Seeking compromise on data privacy, Dems found controversy

Microsoft, Amazon and Comcast got invited to to help craft language but consumer groups did not

Remember a good friend who went his own way

One of the inevitable costs in aging is watching old friends pass… Continue reading

Woman on 17-day fast to spotlight orcas’ plight

At nearly noon, Lanni Johnson sat in a fold-up beach chair in… Continue reading

Are sheriffs above the law?

Washington voters have spoken on I-1639. Sheriffs need to set the stage to follow their oath of office - and enforce the law.