Despite opposition from some neighbors concerned about overcrowding and traffic, a 36-unit affordable housing complex for senior citizens in Missoula will move forward after being awarded $5.9 million in federal housing tax credits by the Montana Board of Housing this week.
The Skyview housing project, led by Alex Burkhalter of Housing Solutions in Missoula, is slated to be built at 2400 Ninth St. W., one block east of Reserve Street on a vacant plot of land. Rents will range from $525 to $815 per month with all utilities included.
“Securing this very competitive funding is a major step forward for this desperately needed project,” Burkhalter said. “Affordable housing is a challenge for all in Missoula, but when you combine this with our age 65-plus senior population growing at a rate of five times the general population, we have to be paying extra attention to the current and future needs for affordable senior housing.”
He hopes to start construction in the summer of 2020.
The Montana Department of Commerce said the $6.62 million project will create an estimated 89 jobs, which will earn a combined $3.9 million in wages.
“The City of Missoula is very supportive of this project,” Missoula City Council member Gwen Jones told the board on Monday in Helena. “To give you a snapshot of need, the new statistics are that to buy a house in Missoula, the median price is $307,000, but in order to qualify to purchase you have to have close to $100,000 in (annual) income.”
In 2018, the median area income for Missoula was $49,300 for a single person or $56,400 for two people, according to the Missoula Organization of Realtors.
And if you isolate renters out, Jones continued, as a group the average income is $29,000 and “tends to be going down.”
“We’re seeing this situation in Missoula,” Jones told the board. “This trajectory and gap is just dramatically widening and it impacts the entire community.”
Burkhalter applied for and was denied the competitive tax credits last year when he was planning on building a project at the site of the former Skyview Trailer Park. Residents there had been evicted, and that site will now be used for 70 units of affordable housing developed by the local nonprofit Homeword. Burkhalter’s project has now moved, but he’s still calling it Skyview. Apartments must have units reserved for those with incomes below 40%, 50% and 60% of the area median income.
Michael D. Gaab, a neighbor, submitted a letter saying he was opposed to the project as it would increase traffic.
“This project would destroy this long standing and quiet residential neighborhood due to the side-effects of overcrowding,” he said.
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Gaab noted that the area lacks streetlights, sidewalks and has unwalkable streets when it snows. Other neighbors told the City Council at a public hearing earlier this year they were concerned about increased traffic.
At that same meeting, City Council members John DiBari and Michelle Cares said the project isn’t a right fit for the neighborhood. But Mayor John Engen wrote a letter to the board saying the city is committed to appeasing concerns.
“Neighboring residents have expressed concerns regarding infrastructure needs, including incomplete sidewalk grids, in the area that could be exacerbated by this development,” Engen wrote. “The City of Missoula is committed to working alongside Housing Solutions, LLC to mitigate these concerns and to ensure this senior-affordable rental community is a positive addition to the Franklin to the Fort Neighborhood.”
Jones said the city’s growth policy, passed in 2015 after lots of public input, recommends growth be focused inward as high-density projects so as not to add expensive infrastructure costs.
“Skyview is very much in line with our growth policy,” she said. “(These) tax credits are a crucial tool to move the needle in terms of getting new units built. It fits all of our boxes.”
Susan Kohler, the CEO of Missoula Aging Services, also supported the project. She said safe, affordable housing is becoming increasingly difficult for people on fixed incomes to find, and the Skyview Project is in an area served by amenities like a nearby bus stop that will allow people to age in place.
Laurie Harris of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative also spoke in support of the project, saying many elderly people in Missoula are forced to take low-paying jobs because they can’t afford housing costs.
“If we can make something safe and affordable, that’s what we need to do,” she said. “This is the first project to come after Missoula adopted a housing plan. I’m really hoping this project can move forward and we can start making some headway in Missoula and in the state for affordable housing.”
Many of the board members expressed dismay that there isn’t enough support from either political party in the state Legislature to allow Montana to get more housing tax credits, because 10 other projects were denied. The board allocated a total of $31.6 million to six projects statewide.
“The board is required to make tough decisions on which projects will receive tax credits, as the need is greater than the dollars available,” said board chairman Patrick Melby. “Each project in front of the board is worthy of receiving housing credits.”
Board member Bob Gauthier of Ronan said that while Montana is making headway in promoting tourism to build its economy, workers still need affordable places to live.
“We’re not getting much help from either party,” he said. “But I’m delighted to see Skyview’s application and them overcoming, you know, and fighting in spite of a lot of pushback.”