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Politics Pop: Missoula to update voting districts
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Politics Pop: Missoula to update voting districts

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The city of Missoula is embarking on its biennial process of reviewing and making changes to ward boundaries, or voting districts, in order to make sure the populations of each ward remain relatively equal.

Neil Pennanen, the city’s GIS analyst and planner, said ward boundaries are adjusted as needed based on new census population data every 10 years, and in the interim years, are adjusted based on estimated population growth in each ward derived from building permits issued for new residential development.

The changes made in 2021 will be based off residential building permits issued in 2019 and 2020 to estimate the number and distribution of the city’s new population, Pennanen said.

Based on those permits, Pennanen said wards 2, 5 and 6 are over the target population due to new development in the northern part of the city, and that wards 3 and 4 are under that population. That means some voters in wards 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 will receive a ballot in a different ward this year.

Citizen oversight committee

The Missoula City Council established a subcommittee this week that will interview candidates for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Citizen Oversight Committee. The Citizen Oversight Committee will work on funding goals, strategy, administrative policies and the annual allocation plan for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Councilwomen Gwen Jones, Julie Merritt and Mirtha Becerra will conduct interviews, review applications and bring back suggestions for the full council to consider appointing to the Citizen Oversight Committee.

Council president Bryan von Lossberg suggested forming the subcommittee as a more efficient way to interview applicants, rather than having the full council interview all candidates.

“We saw a lot of interest from the community,” von Lossberg said. “I think we have 43 applications for the committee. It’s a sizable number of people.”

The Citizen Oversight Committee will include the mayor, city council president, executive director of the Missoula Housing Authority or a designee, three community members (two of which are currently, or have within the last two years, received some form of help in securing their housing), a member from a housing nonprofit, a member in the field of housing or real estate, a member from the field of banking and/or finance. Two alternate members who do not vote will also be considered.

The city council is tasked with appointing three of the voting members and one alternate, the mayor will appoint two voting members and one alternate, and Missoula County commissioners will appoint one voting member.

Affordable housing

The city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, new policies for accessory dwelling units and collaborations with community partners such as Homeword are a few ways that city staff said the city is progressing on plans to increase affordable housing in Missoula, city staff told the Missoula City Council this week.

On Wednesday, the Missoula City Council received an update on work achieved to date following the adoption of the city’s housing policy, “A Place to Call Home: Meeting Missoula’s Housing Needs," and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Montana James, community development manager for the city's Office of Housing, Community Development and Innovation, highlighted the city’s adoption of updates to accessory dwelling unit regulations in October as one area of progress.

The city will track the use of accessory dwelling units and work with other departments and the new Affordable Housing Citizen Oversight Committee to find ways to incentivize their use for long-term affordable housing stock, James said.

The city council’s approval of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund in July 2020 and $750,000 in seed funding from the general fund budget helped get the project going. The city plans to commit at least $100,000 to grow the trust fund each year, in addition to a $1 million contribution each year using tax increment financing from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.

James also highlighted the city’s collaborations with community organizations, land trusts and developers to create and preserve affordable homes and Missoula. The city’s recent work on the Scott Street project is in line with parts of the city’s housing policy that value land banking as a way to build more affordable housing units or homes, as well as leveraging federal funds for those projects.

In the coming months, the city will pilot the funding cycle for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, develop an affordable housing incentives program and reconvene the public-private housing finance workgroup, said Emily Harris-Shears, the city’s affordable housing trust fund administrator.

There remains a lot of work to be done with the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, including establishing the Citizen Oversight Committee this spring, developing and approving an annual allocation plan in the fall, continuing to design programs and implement other strategies from the housing policy, approving administrative policies with the oversight committees and creating an application for funding, Harris-Shears said.

Other areas of progress include a public-private housing finance workgroup that convened last January to start tackling funding barriers; collaborations with community partners such as Homeward to promote access to affordable housing through financial, renter and homebuyer education and counseling; and participation in the Sx͏ʷtpqyen area (formerly Mullan area) master plan.

Shared use path

Missoula County set the stage for the potential construction of a shared use path on Mullan Road between Deschamps Lane and Pulp Mill Road when County Commissioners signed an agreement this week with the Montana Department of Transportation.

Under the agreement, the state would purchase the right of way and develop plans for the trail, if the county decides to fund the project in the future.

Shane Stack, the county’s public works director, said the trail is estimated to cost $1.8 million. Stack told the Missoulian that the county would likely use trail bonds to pay for the trail, although it could also apply for grant funding.

“This just opens the door so we could do this in the future,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said in a meeting Thursday.

If the county decides to build the trail, Stack said construction would likely begin in the next three to five years, although the county can also opt to hold off on the project and retain the right of way and plans from MDT.

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