Missoula narrows goals for use of HUD dollars to affordable housing, homelessness

Eran Pehan, center, director of Missoula’s Office of Housing and Development, led the formulation of the 2019-2023 Consolidated Plan for HUD- Funded Programs. (Missoula Current file photo)

Missoula City Council members on Monday unanimously approved four goals for the use of federal housing dollars through 2023, narrowing the city’s focus to projects that address homelessness and affordable housing.

The plan reflects a shift away from a wider, nine-item list of goals that included infrastructure projects, including sidewalks, in Missoula’s low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

And while lamented by several City Council members, the narrowing is necessary, they agreed, if Missoula is to solve its increasing affordability problem.

Eran Pehan, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development, presented the “2019-2023 Consolidated Plan for HUD-Funded Programs” at Monday night’s public hearing. HUD requires the plan for Missoula to be eligible for federal housing grants.

No members of the public commented on the 215-page document, which will guide the city’s use of dollars received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the next five years. Three City Council members were absent: Jesse Ramos, Jordan Hess and Julie Armstrong.

Pehan said the working group that developed the plan started with a proposed list of nine goals, then winnowed them to four that better reflected the city’s needs and likely available funding.

As approved on an 9-0 council vote, the goals are:

  1. Rental housing: “The city will work to increase and preserve the supply of safe, healthy, affordable rental units for extremely low, low, and moderate-income households in Missoula. We will focus on addressing known challenges to the construction of new rental housing stock and the preservation of existing stock. Outcomes will include an increase in the number of affordable rental units available, as well as the improvement of the quality of rental housing in Missoula.”
  2. “The city will work to increase homeownership opportunities and preserve existing affordable homeownership stock (including mobile home parks and manufactured housing) that is safe and healthy for low, moderate, and middle-income households in Missoula. Outcomes of this goal area will include the improvement of the number and variety of homeownership opportunities in Missoula as well the preservation and maintenance of existing affordable homeownership housing stock in Missoula.”
  3. “The city will work to expand Missoula’s capacity to address homelessness, making it rare, brief, and one time only for those experiencing homelessness in the community. To do this, we plan to invest in capital or public service projects that build systemic capacity in the Missoula Coordinated Entry System. Outcomes for this goal area will include public services targeted to those experiencing homelessness, such as overnight shelter, transitional housing, and supportive services to help individuals navigate the resources available to them.”
  4. Planning and administration. “The Office of Housing & Community Development will plan annually to ensure we are successfully meeting the first three goals identified in this plan. Ensuring that planning for our HUD-funded programs align and complement other community planning efforts and city housing policy are top priorities over the next five years. Additionally, we will work to establish additional, flexible funding sources to support our housing and community development goals. The Outcomes associated with this goal area will include more efficient systems and processes in the Department administration of funds.”

Pehan said the goals came out of a detailed, many month process that included the collection of data on everything from Missoula home prices and trends to the availability and high cost of rental housing and the number and nature of Missoula’s homeless residents.

In fact, City Council member Heidi West commended the plan to all local residents as “must” reading, given its extensive look at the state of housing and the impact of housing costs and availability.

She quizzed Pehan about how the narrowing of goals will play out in the awarding of HUD dollars – specifically, will some projects once approved for HUD funding no longer be approved?

“The short answer,” Pehan said, “is yes.”

The goals will guide the distribution of HUD funding, which currently stands at about $350,000 per year.

Councilwoman Julie Merritt lamented the impact that decision will have on funding for sidewalks in Missoula’s poorer neighborhoods, which still have fewer sidewalks than do other parts of the city.

Still, Merritt said, she supports the plan and its focus on Missoula’s housing and homeless problems.

As described in the plan, “thecost of housing in Missoula has increased significantly since the base year of 2000. Median home value increased 86 percent from 2000 to 2013, while rents increased at a rate of 43 percent during this same time period.

“Since 2013, rents have had a faster rate of increase, growing by 17.7 percent over the last four years. Home values grew by 6.5 percent from 2013 to 2017.”

The effects on Missoula residents are severe. Consider these statistics from the plan to be submitted to HUD:

“Cost burden is the most common housing problem experienced by both renters and owners in Missoula. Of the total households in the city, 19 percent have a housing cost burden greater than 50 percent of income, while 16 percent of households have a cost burden greater than 30 percent of income.

“Looking at both renters and owners, renters are experiencing the most significant cost burdens. Renters represent 77 percent of those experiencing severe cost burden (housing cost burden greater than 50 percent of income) and 74 percent of those experiencing cost burden (housing cost burden greater than 30 percent of income).”

Same, too, do the statistics bear out the city’s focus on its homeless population, which numbered 319 residents during a one-day count in 2018, but is more likely 685 people based on the number of homeless residents regularly seeking help from local social service agencies.

According to the plan, “When asked where they slept, 56 percent indicated they stayed in an emergency shelter, 24 percent in a temporary housing shelter, and 20 percent were unsheltered.”

For federal fiscal year 2019, guided by its newly adopted goals, the city of Missoula proposes to distribute its federal housing dollars in this manner:

HOME Investment Partnerships
• Missoula Housing Authority – Villagio Project ($350,000 Loan)

  • Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)
  • Human Resource Council – Homeowner Rehab Project

($200,000 Grant)

  • YWCA Missoula – Ada’s Place Emergency Housing ($25,000 Grant)
  • Poverello Center – Housing Rentention Specialist ($15,000 Grant)
  • Poverello Center – Rapid Intake and Assessment ($25,000 Grant)
  • Homeword – Homeownership, Rental, and Financial Education and Counseling ($18,780 Grant)