New affordable housing model preserves home for native Missoulian

By: - August 7, 2023 7:47 am

Reid Reimers grew up in Missoula, and a new affordable housing model is helping him stay. It also allowed him to adopt Dewey, pictured here. (Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

Editor’s note: This year, a group of residents in Missoula signed a deal that turned their apartments into permanently affordable homes — and turned them into shareholders.

This series looks at the new affordable housing model and some of the people who won’t be displaced because of it. This story features Reid Reimers, a native Missoulian.

The series also shares a Q&A with the neighbor who catalyzed the deal and talks about her hopes that it can be used in other places in Montana experiencing a crisis of affordability.

Reid Reimers grew up in Missoula, and his 92-year-old grandma still lives in the Garden City.

His father was part of the first class of students at a school that became Sentinel High.

Reimers, 41, has roots here.

Now, after having moved umpteen times in the same town in just a few years and having multiple rentals sold out from under him, he can afford to stay in Missoula as long as he wants.

A year ago in April, Reimers moved into an apartment in the historic Wolf Avenue building on the Northside, where a conversation was already underway about how to turn the property into a co-op.

The deal went through this spring, roughly one year later.

It means Reimers is free to live the life he’s designed for himself, one that’s not highly lucrative, but is meaningful to him.

It means he’s free to experience one of the “weird simple joys” of adopting a pup, in this case, Dewey.

It also means he’s free of the low-level but persistent stress that comes with the uncertainty of renting in Missoula.

“It’s not going to get sold out from under me,” Reimers said of his home. “And I can have a dumb little pooch.”

He grew up with dogs, but he hasn’t had one in adulthood because property managers set limits on the breeds and weights and sometimes charge extra money every month.

At Wolf Avenue, Reimers is one of the board members and shareholders who set the bylaws for the units, pups are allowed, and (cute little) Dewey shares his home and yard.

When he first started looking for apartments again, a friend from high school who manages property told him a place was available on the Northside, but it wasn’t going to be a standard rental.

“She was like, ‘It’s a weird setup, but it’s a really cool space, and I think you might be kind of perfect for it,’” he said.

She told him a discussion about converting the building with rentals into “a co-op thing” was in the works, and nothing was guaranteed. But the quirky home and idea of a collective sat just fine with Reimers.

“I’ve always lived in kooky little houses around town. So this just then fit perfectly,” he said.

Years ago, Reimers figured he could afford a mortgage in Missoula, but in the last few years, housing prices have skyrocketed, and even people who earn sizeable salaries can’t save up fast enough for a down payment.

It’s hard to find a rental in Missoula that allows dogs. Now, Reimers, who grew up with dogs, can be a pup parent to Dewey. (Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

Meanwhile, Reimers has created a life around his values, and they don’t involve getting rich.

He teaches children theater in Missoula, hosts underground Missoula tours, stage manages, runs trivia at a couple of different places in town, hosts a show on the same channel as Hank Green, officiates a lot of weddings, does random voiceover work, and guest lectures at University of Montana — Western. He has produced the Rocky Horror Show, emceed the Pride parade, and ran the auction for a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser in Missoula.

“By not working a regular job, I’m able to do so many other random gigs, and sometimes, those pay really well, and sometimes, I volunteer my time,” Reimers said.

His choices allow him to take budget trips overseas for what he calls “F— you February,” and they allow him to carve out a week every year to volunteer his time.

“That’s become really important to me,” Reimers said, of travel and volunteering.

So many friends have moved to bigger cities, but Reimers appreciates the community feel of Missoula (despite the lack of a dating pool for his 40-gay-male demographic), seeing his grandma on the regular, and the last-minute calls he gets for help running a show.

He’d like to help other people with the same housing model. People in other larger places might need different answers, but Reimers figures they can help identify issues that come up.

What are the rules for barking dogs and cleaning up outside? How will they run the garbage service? How do they file taxes for the property?

Should they rebuild the back porch first or fix the gutters? Who gets to decide? And what happens if someone is late with rent?

Reimers likes to travel, and the new housing model will allow him to live in his hometown and also explore new places in the winter. (Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

With eight units at Wolf Avenue as opposed to, say, 100, they could be flexible.

“It wasn’t as vital for us to really be sticklers about bylaws and things,” Reimers said.

He said the Wolf Avenue board won’t have perfect answers, but they’ll have experience with the process and he wants to be a resource for others, although he wonders if the ship has sailed for people in places such as Bozeman.

“I would love for this model to be functional for folks,” Reimers said.

Reimers said he hadn’t realized how unsettling the lack of housing stability was until it disappeared. At the end of May, he had just mailed in his first shareholder check for his home.

“It was really exciting, and it still is,” he said, of the co-op. “In a lot of ways, it hasn’t really settled in yet.”

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.