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A 102-unit affordable senior living building on Missoula’s Westside neighborhood has city and county support, even though the development would take the property off the tax rolls.

Missoula County Commissioners signed a letter for the developer on Tuesday, which will be presented to Montana Housing, noting there is a ‘significant need for affordable housing across Missoula County, and the proposed project will provide more than 100 units of affordable housing for low-income senior citizens, an underserved demographic in our community.”

“This definitely is an improvement to the neighborhood,” Commissioner Jean Curtiss said.

The property is the former site of the Skyview Trailer Park, whose 34 mobile homeowners were sent eviction notices late last year. All of the trailers have been moved off of the property, which is surrounded by a chain link fence.

Commissioner Cola Rowley noted that the trailers were taxed as personal property, and the only property tax paid last year totaled $10,461 for the parcel at 1600 Cooley St.

“So it’s not a substantial loss of property taxes,” Rowley added.

The property owners would continue to pay fees in any special improvement districts.

Tuesday’s signed letter comes after a public hearing before the Missoula City Council on Monday night, in which Susan Kohler with Missoula Aging Services and Jim Morton with the Human Resource Council spoke of how important the project is to the community.

“This will serve the needs of this segment of the population, especially if they are looking at downsizing and want more affordable rentals,” Kohler said, adding that the developer is trying to have a social resource person in place to help people stay in their homes as they age. “It is much less expensive to have them age in place as compared to going into a nursing home or assisted living facility.”

Morton added that many people would like to see high-end condominiums at the site, and this is a “great coup” for the developers and for the low- and middle-income renters.

Monday’s public hearing was necessary to solicit comments on whether the proposed affordable housing project meets a community housing need. Once that’s determined — which was part of the process taking place this week — it can go before Housing Montana, which is a division of the Montana Department of Commerce, to seek housing tax credits and tax-exempt bonds. Traditional financing makes up the third leg of the funding mix, which is expected to cost between $14 million to $15 million.

Alex Burkhalter with Housing Solutions LLC said he hopes the tax credits will cover about half of the cost. The project will compete against seven other proposals from across Montana, which was whittled down from 18 initial proposals this year.

“Often, when people think ‘affordable housing’ they think of a rental subsidy,” Burkhalter told the council. “This is the type that helps with the construction costs, so it adds incentive to keep the rents low and only have occupants with incomes below a certain level.”

The apartments are for people 55 and older who earn up to $29,580 for a single-person household, and $33,840 for a two-person household. Rental rates would be between $525 and $780 per month for a one-bedroom unit, with a two-bedroom going for $790 to $865. Electricity, heat and utilities like water, sewer and garbage, will be included in the rent.

If the request for housing tax credits is successful, a deed restriction will be placed on the property to ensure long-term affordability, and Housing Montana will do annual monitoring to ensure the rental units comply with income limits and affordability.

Burkhalter said about 15 years down the road, he and his partners — which include an unnamed financial institution and a nonprofit — would offer the property for sale to a nonprofit partner that could purchase it for the cost of the outstanding loan. The deed restriction would run for 46 years, but Burkhalter added that the hope is the low-income housing will be available “in perpetuity.”

He added that it’s more than just apartments, with an on-site manager, community room, gym and chapel.

Council member Jesse Ramos said while he wasn’t opposed to the project, he has “kind of a problem” with the loss of property taxes, saying that it drives up the cost of services like police and fire for other landowners, and that this is a Band-Aid that will only provide affordable housing for a little more than 100 people.

“While this will help a few people, it’s not a solution to our problem,” Ramos said.

But other council members support the project.

“I disagree 100 percent” with Ramos, said Julie Armstrong. “I know the kind of fixed income they are on. This is exactly the kind of population that should be benefiting.

“The city is not subsidizing this project … we don’t have to build much infrastructure, and it’s not costing a lot to the city to make it work and it will not hurt any other city housing projects.”

Heidi West added that it’s of substantial importance for those 100 people whose needs will be met.

“I think this is a great project and hope it gets funded,” West said.

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