The city of Missoula and the University of Montana are moving forward on their search for a developer to create hundreds of new student housing units, and they hope to have a deal in place soon.

Missoula Mayor John Engen and UM President Royce Engstrom agreed in December to a new quality of life initiative that, among other things, will address the city’s shortage of student housing.

The initiative calls for 1,000 new units to be built and rented near the university by the close of 2014. The housing likely would be created through a public-private partnership, though the private players haven’t been named.

“I’ve had talks with three organizations that do what they call purpose-built student housing,” said Engen. “The university has had conversations with one of them. We’re marching down a path now and I hope to have some decent news in the near future.”

Engen said the housing project would likely be built in the downtown area. Not all 1,000 units would be constructed at one location, but rather they’d involve two or three smaller projects providing several hundred units each.

“My goal is to have this housing in an appropriate place in the proximity of campus,” said Engen. “There are some locations downtown that could provide that – the mill site and East and West Broadway. For a creative entrepreneur, there are a lot of opportunities, though I don’t imagine 1,000 units all in one building.”

Supporters believe the effort to provide additional student housing could help lower rental costs across the market and relieve pressure on neighborhoods, where residents have watched owner-occupied homes give way to a growing number of rentals.

Many homeowners believe that has changed the quality of life in some neighborhoods. They also fear it may threaten the value of their investments if the trend continues.

“This effort is all about trying to relieve pressure on neighborhoods,” said Engen. There’s an opportunity to do that here.”


While UM and various student groups have taken steps to improve neighborhood relations by picking up trash after football games and growing the school’s ambassador program to deal with issues, most agree that a more permanent fix is needed.

Brent Campbell of the WGM Group said the push for more student housing could help resolve many issues facing university-area neighborhoods.

“The fact that we haven’t added a huge amount of campus housing has led to a bit of a shortage in student housing, and that’s put pressure on Missoula’s neighborhoods to meet that demand,” said Campbell. “Having more student housing would provide some relief to the neighborhoods, and I think it will affect the cost of housing and bring it down.”

In its latest housing report, the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at UM found that 38 percent of Montana renters spend more than 30 percent of their cash income on housing.

The problem is worse in Missoula, with 52 percent of all renters spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. That makes Missoula the most expensive major market in Montana for renters.

“Most recently, there appears to be a shortage where vacancy rates are low,” Campbell said. “When they get low, you start seeing apartment complexes in Missoula come online. We’re back in one of these bubbles where we’ll start seeing new multifamily units come online.”

Over the past few years, Campbell said, the rental demand has largely been met. New duplex and multifamily housing units in Missoula have steadily decreased since 2002, according to the business bureau study.

But last week, the Farran Group broke ground on a new 224-unit apartment project off Russell Street. That project alone outpaces the multifamily units built in Missoula in all of 2009 and 2010 combined.

While not necessarily classified as student housing, Campbell said more student-oriented projects may follow, including the 1,000 units envisioned by the city and the university in their quality of life initiative.

“That’s a good strategy by the university and the mayor, working this way to deal with this issue,” Campbell said. “The (accessory dwelling unit) issue maybe becomes less of an issue if there’s less demand to convert a garage to an apartment.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or @martinkidston.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at

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With enrollment down 726 students in 2012, Federal HUD reports of declining four year enrollments nationwide for years to come, and trends toward learning online from the comfort of your ranch in Sidney, MT, isn't it bad timing to build University housing? Does the U really need a multimillion dollar deal for 1,000 rental units with no foreseeable income stream? Who is Brent Campbell and why are his statements of need worth the air he uses to utter them? I'll bet he's making some money on this whole "deal." Where is an actual "Needs Assessment" for these rental units? Not just anecdotes. STOP MORTGAGING OUR FUTURE! The University needs to focus on its $6 million shortfall for 2012 before it creates a huge debt obligation for student housing that is not needed.

Waltzing Matilda
Waltzing Matilda

It is so obvious what the University of Montana is really trying to do here. This is an end around attempt to build housing on the UM Golf Course. In 2005, President George Dennison attempted to build housing on the UM Golf Course, but a huge public protest prevented it from happening.

Now the Board of Regents has given the UM administration a go ahead to destroy the UM Golf Course in the name of education by building the new Missoula College there. Once the golf course is destroyed, many other buildings will be constructed on the former golf course including housing. By first destroying the golf course in the name of education, there will be no way to fight a housing project there.

What is not being reported is that in 2005, President Dennison told the Montana Board of Regents that the main UM Campus had enough academic building space to accommodate 23,000 students. See the minutes from that board meeting at the following link:

The current UM enrollment including the Missoula College is less than 15,000 students. With enough current classroom space for 8,000 additional students, why is UM proposing to spend $47 Million to build a new Missoula College? This is a complete waste of taxpayer’s money!

Call or write your state legislator today and demand that they not fund House Bill 14, which would provide the funding for this scam. The following link will provide contact information for the Montana Legislature:


I agree and it seems like the city should be promoting the housing that is already in place ie private rentals, and not trying to boost a multi million dollar business's profits with this NEW student housing! Why take income out of the hands of Missoula residents and give it to the big business university system? Something fishy is going on here and I feel for the 1000s of people who have rentals in Missoula and depend on the yearly student population for some extra income in tough times. When I attended the U of M last spring I would see signs every day put out by the Student Housing Club (not the proper name). These signs saying "RENT IS ROBBERY" and "LANDLORDS ARE CRIMINALS" is what these people were promoting to the student population and not caring one bit about the income of actual residents and the pain that being a landlord is. And one day Missoula's name will be changed to CITY OF ENGEN because that's all it is turning into! Let us build more bike lanes and paint more sharrows while the people driving on the roads, THE ONES WHO PAY FOR ROAD REPAIRS THAT DON'T HAPPEN AND THIS PRO BIKE WASTE, drive through huge holes and poor roads costing us more money on repairs to our vehicles over the years. And why must these people using the bike lanes ride on MY right hand white driving line and not another six feet over on their right hand line? Under Montana law riding on sidewalks is NOT illegal, city code states it is illegal in business districts, but Montana state law trumps that anyway and it is not like our sidewalks of Missoula are soooo crowded that bikes cannot use them. Engen and his puppets need to open their eyes and start supporting people that work hard and actually make Missoula run and function not Missoula's idiotic hippie type agenda...Have a good day!


Shouldn't they hold off on this? The U of M has declining enrollment - maybe they won't need 1,000 more units.


It is not surprising that the Mayor cares about quality of life for college students, since he doesn't give a hoot about the crumbling of our roads. Our Mayor just doesn't give a darn abount anyone or anything unless they go to college and dont cost the city money.

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