Thirty-one Missoula families can thank the generosity of neighbors they’ll likely never meet for saving their homes from the auction block.
A two-day online fundraiser collected $9,730 to pay delinquent taxes on mobile homes scheduled for auction Wednesday morning – not enough to save every home, but enough to keep 31 families in place.
The Save Affordable Missoula Housing campaign on GoFundMe.com was the idea of Svein Newman. On Sunday, after learning of the pending auction, he set up the account with a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline for fundraising.
At first, Newman said, he hoped for $1,200 to save a handful of homes. Then the goal grew to $2,400, then $5,000 and eventually to $8,500.
When Newman started, nearly 200 mobile homes were scheduled for auction by Missoula County at 9 a.m. Wednesday – unless overdue taxes were paid.
Donating mostly $25 or $50 at a time, nearly 200 Missoula residents answered his call to action. In the meantime, some of the homeowners were able to borrow or raise the needed funds themselves, whittling the auction list to under 100 residences.
The $9,730 raised by the county’s deadline at the close of business Tuesday paid the taxes on 31 mobile homes.
Missoula County treasurer Tyler Gernant supported the effort, and did the research needed to be certain the donations reached the most vulnerable families.
Any remaining funds after the delinquent accounts are settled will go to North Missoula Community Development Corp. to help residents of Skyview Trailer Park relocate.
Those families are newly in danger of homelessness after the trailer park closed. Many live in mobile homes that are too old to move – or that won’t be accepted at other parks in the city because they don’t meet modern-day codes.
“It’s just more evidence of why I love living in Missoula,” Newman said Tuesday night. “The community steps up. They recognize a tangible need and their collective ability to meet it.”
State law requires counties to auction mobile homes if the owners fall behind on their taxes. Missoula County conducts one such auction each year, after making sure the affected homeowners are notified and given a chance to come up with the money.
“Nobody should have to lose a home that they already own,” Newman said. “A lot of these homes were being lost for very low debts – under $200. That was shocking to me.”
One mobile home owner owed just $191.
“As a community, we care a lot about affordable housing,” Newman said. “and that starts with helping people stay in properties where they already live.
“When I saw that 200 homes were about to be lost, the need and opportunity felt real.”
Newman learned that reality firsthand Tuesday morning when a single mother of two contacted him to ask if the GoFundMe effort could help with her tax bill.
“Her bill was less than $200,” Newman said, “but she couldn’t quite get there. She has a job, but can’t pay all the bills. She was terrified for her kids and for her future.
“It was wonderful to say, ‘We’ve got you.’ ”