Missoula nonprofit to build affordable senior housing in Billings

This is the proposed site for the development of Heights Senior, an affordable-housing project at Uinta Park Drive and Twin Oaks Drive, a little southwest of the intersection of Wicks Lane and Lake Elmo Drive. (Last Best News)

GMD Development of Seattle is partnering with Homeword, a Missoula-based nonprofit, to develop a 136-unit affordable senior rental community, known as Heights Senior, in Billings next year.

A neighborhood meeting on the project has been scheduled for Monday from 4 to 6 p.m. at St. Bernard Catholic Church, 226 Wicks Lane, according to a press release from Homeword.

Heights Senior will be the eighth affordable housing development that GMD Development and Homeword have undertaken across the state to help provide homes that Montanans can afford. The two entities, as co-general partners and developers, will own and manage the 136 units.

Construction is expected to start next summer, with plans to begin leasing units in the spring of 2019—if adequate funding is secured for the proposed development.

The Homeword press release said that in Billings, rents have increased 22 percent on average since 2010, yet incomes aren’t rising at the same rate, especially for seniors on fixed incomes. According to a recent market study, between 2016 and 2021 the population of people 55 and older is projected to increase by 8.7 percent, and the population of those 65 and older by 16.5 percent.

Seniors often need to be close to services and medical care, which in a rural state like Montana often requires them to live in the larger cities, thus placing more pressure on places like Billings.

The city of Billings 2015-2019 Consolidated Plan recognizes Billings’ housing challenges, stating, “The greatest housing need in Billings is the development and renovation of affordable housing for renters with incomes from zero to 80% Area Median Income (AMI). Local housing options are limited due to cost burden, low vacancy rates and increased competition for available units. The cost of housing has increased by nearly 8% each year from 2000 to 2010. Median contract rent increased 40% from 2000 to 2010.”

Gregory Dunfield, president/owner of GMD Development, was quoted in the press release as saying, “GMD is excited to have the opportunity to develop much needed rentals in Billings that seniors can afford. The development incorporates many sustainable features to benefit the residents, as well as increase the longevity of the buildings and the environment, including solar thermal and photovoltaic installations.”

The proposed project aims to provide good quality homes at rents well below market rates. Centrally located off of Lake Elmo Drive and Judith Lane, the site is close to retail, businesses, parks, transit and other services and amenities that make for a desirable place for seniors to live.

It is just two miles north of downtown Billings and just west of the convenient retail/commercial corridor on Main Street including Walmart Supercenter, Ace Hardware, Walgreens and numerous restaurants and services.

The one- and two-bedroom rentals will be available to seniors living on about $25,440 a year ($12.23 an hour) or less, depending on the size of their household. This proposed property will serve the senior population living on 60 percent of the area median income for Yellowstone County or less, which works out to $28,440 for a single person.

The National Association of Realtors found that on average, for every 100 units built with low-income housing tax credits, as Heights Senior will be, 161 local jobs are created during construction, as well as 44 annually recurring local jobs. That level of construction also generates $11.7 million in local income during construction and $2.6 million in annually recurring local income.

The release said that in addition to employing Montana workers and boosting the local economy, Heights Senior will have a long-term impact on Billings’ identified need for housing people can afford. Approximately 25 to 45 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, depending on where in Billings they live.

Seventy percent of those renters are living on $23,700 or less per year. When people can afford their rent, they have more money to spend in other areas of the local economy, which strengthens the community overall.

Andrea Davis, Homeword’s executive director, said, “We are proud to develop these important rentals so that seniors who are working or on fixed incomes can afford to live in the community of Billings. Home is more than just a roof over your head. It’s where jobs go to sleep at night and where people begin and end their day. We are pleased to be able to offer 136 beautiful, sustainable homes that seniors in the workforce and on fixed incomes can afford.”

Heights Senior will be primarily financed with tax-exempt bonds issued through the Montana Board of Housing and funded by a private lender. Project equity will be derived from the sale of housing tax credits issued by the Montana Board of Housing.

The development is likely to include substantial investment through the sale of energy tax credits that will generate additional revenues for the development. This investment will allow the purchase and installation of solar energy equipment to generate electricity and hot water.

For more information, write to Andrea Davis at andrea@homeword.org.