City of Missoula focuses federal grants on housing projects, programs

Members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday approved $630,000 in federal grants to six programs intended to increase affordable housing and bolster programs for homeless and at-risk residents.

The allocation of funds continues the city’s efforts to pare down the number of grant recipients and direct a larger portion of funding to programs that best align with the community’s immediate goals around housing.

“The determination is to try and fully fund programs as best as possible, or make sure there’s enough funds to really make a program operational and functional,” said Colin Woodrow with the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development. “The idea is to lump and fully fund programs based on the ask and the need.”

The allocation of federal funds announced on Wednesday include $350,000 in HOME funds to the Villagio, a 200-unit affordable housing development planned for the Northside neighborhood. The project received $745,000 in funding last year, pushing the city’s commitment to the project beyond $1 million.

Providing all HOME funds to a single project represents a shift in strategy around housing. The city’s new housing policy is expected next week, and the Office of Housing and Community Development will also release an amended version of a separate plan detailing its goals around housing and homelessness for the next five years.

The two policies will share some common threads, according to Montana James with Community Development.

“The goals we intend to propose will focus on rental housing and home ownership options, and those are two big elements of the housing policy as well,” said James. “We want to really leverage city resources and all of the funds we have at our disposal to make a big impact in those areas.”

The latest allocation of funding also includes $200,000 in Community Development Block Grants to the Human Resource Council. That funding will help rehabilitate 12 owner-occupied homes held by residents earning less than 80 percent of the area median income.

The YWCA also received $25,000 to support emergency housing at ADA’s Place, and Homeword received $18,700 to provide renter and homebuyer education.

The Poverello center also received two grants, including $15,000 to fund a housing retention specialist, and $25,000 to bring 1,300 new shelter clients into the Missoula Coordinated Entry System. That program launched in 2017 to provide a clear path to sustainable housing for homeless individuals.

“It’s an incredible system that’s newish to our community and it’s providing really good results,” said council member Michelle Cares. “I’m glad as a city we’re investing in something that’s working. We’re providing this grant to the Poverello to make sure that success continues.”

A recent Community Needs Assessment Report found that 32 percent of city residents saw affordable housing across all income levels as a citywide priority, followed by 18 percent who named infrastructure.

Figures provided Wednesday placed the median price of a Missoula home at an all-time high of $290,000. The income needed to purchase a median-priced home also rose to around $90,000.

The Office of Housing and Community Development is expected to release its housing policy next week. The document will offer a range of strategies that could expand the city’s housing stock and make it easier to build housing deemed affordable to a greater number of residents.

“What’s illustrated here among all these nonprofits, as well as our private developers who are committed and engaged in helping us solve homelessness as best we can, this is truly a partnership and we can’t do it ourselves,” said council member Heather Harp. “We need all these other organizations to make us better.