Missoula Current: Housing advocates watching Tester bill aimed at preservation, affordability

by Martin Kidston

Housing advocates are closely watching legislation aimed at preserving mobile home parks, saying the bill would secure needed funding to help address the nation’s affordable housing crisis, including that in Montana.

Sen. Jon Tester last year introduced the Preservation and Reinvestment Initiative for Community Enhancement, or PRICE Act. The bill would make permanent a 2022 grant program that emphasizes the preservation of Resident Owned Communities, or ROCs.

“As a third-generation Montanan who is fortunate enough to live on the same plot of land my grandparents homesteaded over 100 years ago, making sure that folks can afford to live in the community they grew up in is personal,” Tester said in a statement. “Our commonsense legislation will help preserve the supply of affordable housing across our state and revitalize units badly in need of repairs.”

Resident Owned Communities have become increasingly popular in Missoula and around the West as the price of housing – and land – continue to climb. In recent years, mobile home parks have become vulnerable to purchase and redevelopment – something Missoula has witnessed on a number of occasions.

But recently, a number of housing advocates, led by NeighborWorks Montana, have helped the residents of local mobile home parks purchase their property, making it resident owned and eliminating the risk of redevelopment.

The Old Hellgate Village Mobile Home Park, which includes 34 lots off Mullan Road, became resident owned in late 2022 while the residents of Two Rivers Mobile Home Park in Lolo are working on making their community resident owned.

“Resident-owned communities represent a growing national movement that empowers individuals and families to take control of their living space,” said Mike Bullard with ROC USA, which has partnered with NeighborWorks. “This is more than just a local development – it’s a testament to the resilience and determination of individuals who have come together, democratically, to shape their living environment in a positive way.”

Last fiscal year, Tester secured $225 million for the PRICE grant program, along with other housing efforts. Among them, funding was established for the “Yes in My Back Yard” grant program, along with $170 million to help NeighborWorks.

Tester’s latest legislation would make the PRICE Act permanent.

“We expect there to be a legislative hearing in the Senate Banking Committee on this and other housing bills in the spring,” said Tester spokesperson Eli Cousin.