June is Homeownership Month, and every year at this time we reflect on the successes from the last year and the challenges that remain. There are many challenges to rental and homeownership market today—shortages, out-of-reach prices and rising interest rates—but it has sparked creative thinking as a result. One of these creative approaches is housing cooperatives, buildings jointly owned by a corporation made up of its residents.

We have seen the same worries on so many of our community members’ faces over the last two years. Buyers and sellers, folks new to our community and long-time residents, almost universally exclaim, “It’s so hard to find a home that I/my child/my friend/my parents can afford, and I don’t know what I’ll/they’ll do. Missoula doesn’t feel like I/we/they will be able to call it home much longer.”

Sometimes, as we look at the landscape that buyers are heading out into, we feel the same way. To find a solution to these problems, however, we must get creative and do things differently than they have been done before. This is the Homeword way.

The best part is that we don’t do this work alone.

We were so excited when, at the Montana Housing Conference in 2022, the Montana Cooperative Development Center offered to bring their knowledge on cooperative housing directly to communities throughout the state. We learned that the first housing cooperative in Montana was located in Hamilton, and our state partners at NeighborWorks Montana were working to bring another online. We knew we wanted to get involved in bringing these partners and their expertise in co-op housing to Missoula.

Together with the Montana Cooperative Housing Development Center and NeighborWorks Montana we put together two workshops on June 7. We hosted one in the morning introducing the co-op housing model to financial services representatives, real estate professionals, business owners, local government representatives and investors. That afternoon we held another workshop for potential buyers.

And Missoula stepped up. Over 40 community members joined us over two sessions to dig in and learn about what cooperatives are, how housing cooperatives are formed and how they operate. Working together, we talked through the pros and cons of this type of ownership structure. We also brainstormed where both the challenges and solutions were going to come from.

Like many big problems, our current housing shortage solution isn’t going to come neatly from one big idea. It is going to take a lot of different ideas and options all working together towards the same goal to make headway.

One of the takeaways from the learning sessions was that cooperative ownership isn’t for everyone—but for those that it would work for, we need this invaluable tool in our collective toolbox. The Missoula community is working to make sure that it is available when we reach for it.

When we are reflecting on the next year, housing co-ops will definitely go into the success column.