Missoula's Equinox affordable apartments open doorsPosted on Aug. 7

2009-08-07T00:00:00Z Missoula's Equinox affordable apartments open doorsPosted on Aug. 7KEILA SZPALLER of the Missoulian missoulian.com
August 07, 2009 12:00 am  • 

People who will call the Equinox their home aren't the only ones to gain from the opening of the $4.5 million complex at the former Liberty Lanes site. Missoula cyclists do, too, for starters.

This month, homeWORD celebrates the completion of 35 apartment units at the corner of Russell and Broadway, and executive director Andrea Davis said she expects tenants to begin moving in over the next couple of weeks.

Already, though, the affordable housing site is seeing action.

Bicyclists are using the paved trail that runs along the Clark Fork River, and a gravel path curls down to the water behind the three-story building. Both walkways are open to the public.

Davis said the Equinox, a bridge between the urban street chatter and quieter river life, is a building that will anchor renewal along the Broadway corridor. In fact, homeWORD, a nonprofit committed to affordable housing and sustainability, pulled off the project with help from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.

"They recognized that it's going to spur economic redevelopment in this whole area," Davis said.

So for the community, the tax credit project brings a trail and adds to the stock of affordable rentals. Outdoors, the development spiffed up a stretch of the riverbank. And indoors, the studios, one- and two-bedroom units are models of energy efficiency, attention to detail and creativity.

"A lot of tax credit (developments) done by for-profits n and this isn't very nice n tend to look the same," said Julie Stiteler, housing project manager. Not homeWORD, though. "We don't do vanilla."

Yellow doorways greet tenants, and French doors open onto private patios in most units. In the kitchens, pendant lamps hang over the countertops, and those counters are laced with banana peels, a reuse that speaks to the nonprofit's sustainability creed.

Other green features include photovoltaic panels on the roof and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems. The complex also is designed for a gray-water system, using water from lavatory sinks, tubs and showers for drip irrigation.

Davis said the project came in on time and under budget through the direction of Stiteler and lead contractor Garden City Builders. And it includes details that pay tribute to the site's history as a bowling alley because of Garden City's site superintendent.

In a couple of places, the building uses cuts of wood from the actual lanes. Davis said the superintendent rummaged through old building materials looking for a piece that included the directional arrows on the lanes. That piece runs along one wall of the community room.

"It's good to keep a little history," Davis said.

Some 250 people are on the waiting list for units, and people who earn from 30 percent to 50 percent of the area median income qualify. Asset manager Jennifer Betz said someone who qualifies might work in the service industry, earning $6 to $10 an hour. Many people on the waiting list are on Social Security.

"You're talking about typically somebody who works at a day care or retail," said Stiteler.

Once tenants qualify for a unit, they can earn more money without getting kicked out of their apartment. Stiteler said that freedom allows people to pay off debt and save money to possibly get into their own home later on if they'd like. Other residents, such as senior citizens, may choose to stay put and not take on the responsibility of home ownership.

"We're going to see an aging population in Missoula and in Montana in general," Davis said. "And this building is ready for that."

The entire building has doors that accommodate wheelchairs, and instead of twist faucets, it has lever ones, easier for less nimble hands. Some units are already set up for people who use wheelchairs, with short carpet, lower bars in closets, and oven ranges with controls and light switches on a front panel instead of in the back.

Outside, the development put a 385-foot section of the Clark Fork River Trail in place. Stiteler said workers hauled away 60 truckloads of concrete riprap to clean the riverbank, and they landscaped with native plants along the Clark Fork and outside the building. Potentilla plants, with bright yellow flowers, surround the building.

HomeWORD owns three acres on that corner, and the Equinox is the first phase of its development there. It plans to build more apartments and some commercial space at the site just next door.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

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