With one dissent, members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday approved a request to rezone a small parcel of land for an affordable housing project for seniors, one that received key tax credit funding last month from the Montana Board of Housing.
Balancing the concerns of neighbors with the city’s overwhelming need for affordable housing wasn’t easy for some members of the council, who ultimately agreed the project was too vital to pass up.
“Being a homeowner does not make a homeowner more deserving, and being a renter does not make an individual less deserving of a home that’s affordable and allows a person to age in place,” said Ward 1 council member Heidi West. “I support this project, and understand it’s not perfect, but the reality is, it will fill a community need.”
The Skyview project, eyed for South Ninth Street West, received $5.9 million in highly competitive federal housing tax credits last month. It will provide 32 units of age- and income-restricted housing in a three-story development.
Alex Burkhalter of Housing Solutions LLC said he plans to begin construction in July and open the facility in early 2021.
“We’re prepared to move forward in everything necessary to turn that from a housing credit award to housing for Missoula seniors,” he said. “We’re looking at beginning the design within 45 days and look for permitting in the spring.”
The project is just one of several Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects under development in Missoula. The others include the Belagio, a 200-unit project off Scott Street, and Trinity, a 202-unit project slated for two different sites.
But Eran Pehan, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development, said the Skyview project is unique in that it targets a specific demographic. It also meets the strategies adopted in the city’s housing policy.
Without such tax credits, Pehan said, the city will not be able to develop enough affordable housing to meet current and future needs.
“Our office is incredibly supportive of this project,” she said. “Low Income Housing Tax Credits are arguably the most effective resource we have today in ensuring true affordable housing exists in our community.”
While everyone agreed that affordable housing is in high demand, Ward 6 council member Michelle Cares voted against the project, saying the lack of infrastructure and the uncertain future of an adjoining lot were too great a concern.
Fellow Ward 6 council member Julie Merritt didn’t disagree with Cares’ point, but said the need for affordable housing was of greater importance at this point in time.
“All of that taken into consideration, we still have a desperate need for affordable housing, especially for senior housing,” said Merritt. “This has been a particularly difficult decision. There are no bad guys here. It’s trying to balance some really challenging needs in our community.”
Merritt said she has asked Missoula Mayor John Engen and Jeremy Keene, director of Public Works, to come up with a plan to address the neighborhood’s lack of infrastructure.
Other members of the council agreed, saying the lack of infrastructure in certain neighborhoods makes infill projects problematic. And with other projects on the horizon, the time has come to buckle down and address missing sidewalks and other mobility needs.
“We need to develop a method to prioritize these infrastructure needs across the city,” said Ward 4 council member John DiBari, who ultimately supported the project. “We better figure out a way to get prepared for it if this is the direction we’re going to be taking.”