Missoula developers seek tax credits to build affordable senior housing project

A rendering of the proposed Skyview senior housing project at 1600 Cooly.

An affordable housing project designed for seniors won the support of a City Council committee on Wednesday, with members agreeing the proposed development would meet a community housing need.

Now, with a contract on the property once occupied by Skyview Trailer Park in place, the developers will apply for the housing tax credits needed to fund the 102-unit apartment project.

“It’s competitive financing – we’ll be competing with projects across the state,” said Alex Burkhalter, a developer with Housing Solutions of Missoula. “We were able to get the site under contract and we now have the opportunity to try and put together the financing for the apartments.”

The project at 1600 Cooley in the Westside neighborhood would include 62 one-bedroom units and 40 two-bedroom units. Rent would range from $525 to $780 for one bedroom and $790 to $865 for two.

All utilities are included in the rent, which is set by Housing and Urban Development based upon the area median income. That’s $19,000 to $29,000 for one person, and $22,000 to $33,000 for two.

“It speaks to the incredible need here,” said Burkhalter. “I’m thankful we have the opportunity to try and keep (this property) as affordable housing.”

The property’s most recent use as a trailer park and the events that played out last winter haven’t faded from memory. Residents of the park received eviction notices in October, setting off a scramble to relocate them through other housing options.

Burkhalter said Housing Solutions discovered the Cooley property in April and met with the owner in May.

“We came to the site after all those decisions had been made,” Burkhalter said. “I do feel thankful we were able to convince (the owner) to let us give this a try and pursue the financing. He was a week away from putting the property on the open market.”

Given the property’s location, it would have fetched a high dollar. Housing officials also feared that any future development would have sold or rented for market rates.

Yet while replacing the trailer park with rent-controlled housing for seniors may lessen the pain of the park’s displaced residents, it doesn’t shed all of it.

“In the housing climate in Missoula, it’s been really hard for us because we know the people who lived there and the kids who came to our program,” said council member Heidi West, who also works for the North Missoula Community Development Corporation.

“All things considered, this is the best future use of the site,” she added. “The developers bear no individual responsibility for what happened to the folks who lived there.”

West said many of the Skyview residents found better housing through the Missoula Housing Authority. A few were able to relocate their trailers, though such options are increasingly rare in Missoula.

Others are living on the street in fifth-wheel trailers while some, West said, can’t find any help.

“It’s really hard to watch those folks who are really at the bottom drop out,” said West. “But this is the best use of zoning and what could happen in that space. The need for housing for 55 and up in our community is exceedingly high.”

Plans for the apartment envision a four-story structure offering a range of amenities, including a gym, chapel, patio and card room. Units would include common kitchen amenities, along with air-conditioning, washer and dryer hookups, and ceiling fans.

In exchange for receiving tax credits, Housing Solutions must commit to 46 years of rent and income restrictions, and a restrictive covenant will be filed against the project.

City Council member Heather Harp lauded the project, but encouraged future developers to consider affordable housing for mixed generations.

“I hope going forward we continue to have additional projects that are generationally mixed instead of just one generation,” she said. “I think it’s critical we have older people everywhere, young people everywhere, and we sprinkle families and single people throughout, because that’s what creates a rich fabric.”