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Old Sawmill District

Homeword looks to Sawmill District for affordable housing

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Excavation workers took advantage of the balmy spring weather to prepare the Old Sawmill District for construction.

A local nonprofit is looking to build 26 units of low- to moderate-income housing at the Old Sawmill District, and is expected to ask the Missoula Redevelopment Agency for financing to help cover the land costs.

Homeword, a group that works to provide affordable housing to seniors, veterans and survivors of domestic violence, among others, informed MRA’s board of directors this week that it will seek tax increment financing to bring the Sweetgrass Commons project closer to reality.

How much Homeword will request in public assistance remains uncertain, though Housing Development Director Heather McMilin said any assistance will help.

“This would be our only ask for you,” she told the board. “This would be a very clean, very simple ask, and we’ll pitch it next month.”

MRA has been looking to include more affordable housing in its projects, and the issue has come up in the past. Earlier this year, Fishmore Associates approached the board seeking $147,000 in TIF money to help fund a $4.9 million, 60-unit apartment project on Third Street.

Fishmore pledged to set aside 10 percent of the units as low-income housing, leading one former MRA board member to say the $54,000 value didn’t compare to the cost of relocating the 26 residents of a trailer park who once occupied the property.

This past week, MRA also approved $518,230 in tax increment financing for the first phase of a workforce housing project planned off Scott Street in the city’s Northside neighborhood. Affordable housing was also the theme behind Homeword’s pitch this week.

“You would be helping contribute to the land purchase, and that would be helping us out greatly,” McMilin told the board. “From a policy standpoint, we think this is a good precedent to set.”

McMilin said Homeword has talked of building in the district for the past 20 years. She said the organization was able to negotiate a “somewhat reasonable” price on the land, which includes roughly seven city lots.

The parcel is located on the western edge of the district between Wyoming and California streets. McMilin said Homeword received some funding from the Board of Housing, though it was less than the initial request.

“They already feel Missoula has a lot of tax credit housing,” McMilin said. “We got it funded with the tax credits that were left, leaving us with a shortage. It wasn’t quite what we were asking for.”

She said Homeword is working to make up the difference through other channels. It received HOME funds from the city, along with a Community Development Block Grant.

It also has an application in with the Federal Home Loan Bank-Seattle, which is looking to issue its last round of funding for affordable housing.

“The reason we’re going to be so competitive in the affordable housing circles in that Seattle ask is because the Federal Home Loan Bank will loan to deed-restricted affordable housing if a city shows a commitment to affordable housing,” McMilin said.

“Missoula supports us 100 percent and we have worked really hard,” she added. “We wanted to buy in this district, and we have been discussing this district for the last 20 years in Homeword.”

The planned residences would range from studios to three bedrooms. McMilin said they would remain available for the next 46 years as deed-restricted affordable housing.

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