Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula's nascent and publicly funded Affordable Housing Trust Fund issued another disbursement on Monday night when the City Council approved an $80,000 contribution to the United Way of Missoula County.

The funds will help operate the Centralized Housing Solutions Fund – a program established by the United Way to help local households cover monthly gaps in housing payments.

The organization anticipates the latest round of funding to support more than 170 households.

“This is a very small investment per household, and it makes a world of difference for that household,” said council member Heidi West.

At the request of former Mayor John Engen, the City Council in June 2020 approved the creation of the Housing Trust Fund. The subsidized funding can be deployed to pay for land costs, infrastructure, or buying down the cost of the end product to boost affordable housing.

It can also go to provide gap financing or loan guarantees, which is what the city approved on Monday. The $80,000 disbursement was recommended by the city's Affordable Housing Resident Oversight Committee and received unanimous support from City Council.

“This is an ideal example of how our Affordable Housing Trust Fund should be used,” said West. “This is a really flexible funding source, and the average funding disbursement is $400 per household to keep people housed.”

The trust fund has limited revenue and applications are competitive. However, the fund could soon be padded by the sale of city-owned property, including the Sleepy Inn, the Missoula Water Building, property off Scott Street. Other properties could also be added to the mix, including the old library block and property off Johnson Street.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency has been the fund's primary contributor up to this point, with a commitment of $1 million a year. Under the resolution establishing the fund, the city is also required to make a contribution of $750,000 a year during each budgeting cycle.

“Our affordable housing trust fund is a work in progress, and we're figuring out how to have long-term investments as well as gap investments like this,” said council president Gwen Jones. “United Way has been very involved in housing and helping spearhead programs for those who are losing their housing and keeping them housed.”