New affordable housing project brings opportunity to Missoula-based design team

Encompass Design recently completed Larkspur Commons in Bozeman, a 136-unit affordable housing project. Madison Crossing in Missoula will offer 200 units and appear differently than the Bozeman project. (Larkspur Commons)

With funding in place and approval granted, the design team behind an affordable housing project in Missoula is looking toward spring construction as it pushes forward with schematic drawings and site plans.

The Missoula City Council last week unanimously approved a right-of-way vacation that freed up the final piece of the six-acre project, located below Interstate 90 in the Northside neighborhood.

At 200 units, Madison Crossing will emerge as the largest affordable housing project in Montana history, and do so at a time when housing prices in Missoula remain at record highs, pushing past a median price of $300,000.

“We do a lot of affordable housing all over South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, and we’re moving into other states with the developers we work with,” said Jenn Clary, co-owner of encompass design and the project’s principal manager. “This project is the largest in state history, so that’s a pretty awesome challenge, to do something like this locally in something we believe in.”

While the design remains a work in progress, the project will include four buildings designed to appear as seven. They’ll range from three to four stories and include partial underground parking, enclosed hallways and elevators.

Of the 200 units, Clary said, the apartments will offer 93 two-bedroom units, 101 three-bedroom and six four-bedroom units. The latter are hard to come by in Missoula when affordability is key, housing experts have said.

“We’re looking at potentially doing the project out of cross-laminated timber,” Clary said. “If we can afford to do something like that with this project, it will also be the largest CLT project in the state of Montana.”

While using cross-laminated timber may carry higher upfront costs, Clary said, it could save on building costs in the long run by cutting the length of construction.

“It could have larger costs up front, but you can build a lot faster,” she said. “Affordable housing developers are really interested in this type of building, to do something faster and get units placed in service faster.”

Roughly 175 units will be reserved for those who earn 60 percent of the area median income, or $42,000 for a family of four. Another 24 units will go to those who earn 40 percent of Missoula’s median income, or $28,160 for a family of four.

A Montana Board of Housing bond will provide $25 million in financing, while the development has received $745,000 in federal funding. Other funds may also be applied.

The developers include Blue Line Development, the Missoula Housing Authority, and Madison Crossing – Missoula, LLC.

“These developers are Low Income Tax Credit developers, and there’s a lot of federal funds in here,” said Clary. “When you have a project that’s a Low Income Tax Credit project, that means it’s truly affordable.”

Clary said the planning will continue over the next few months and require a review by Housing and Urban Development. That should take place in October and a building permit will be filed in December.

Construction is on pace for next spring, The project is generally bounded by Shakespeare, Scott and Otis streets.

“The site is pretty steep, but we have a really good site plan going and we feel like we’ve got a good concept that we’re excited about with our developers, and they’re excited about,” she said. “Missoula is where our offices are, so it’s neat to have this challenge at home and do something special for Missoula.”