County contributes more land to housing project; city explores models for support center

Plans for the Trinity supportive and affordable housing project off Mullan Road and West Broadway are coming to a head as the project moves toward a spring groundbreaking.

With a supportive housing project gearing up to break ground in the spring, Missoula County on Thursday agreed to increase its donation of public land from 4 acres to 5.2 acres to support the development.

The increase in the county’s contribution of property was sought by developers to accommodate easements and right-of-way requirements associated with the Trinity project planned off Mullan Road near the county jail.

“It increases the size of the land donation to 5.28 acres,” said Chris Lounsbury, the county’s chief administrative officer. “That increase really doesn’t change the size of the project. It also creates a true street into the project.”

The Trinity project, now years in the making, will include 30 units of supportive housing dedicated to those earning between 30% and 50% of the area median income, or between $16,600 and $27,700 for a single individual.

Another 100 units included on the site will offer affordable housing geared to a variety of incomes, including those who earn up to 80% of the area median income, or around $44,320 for a single individual.

Thursday’s resolution included language changes to last year’s agreement between the Missoula Housing Authority, Homeward and the county, striking “low-income” from the contract for sensitivity’s sake. It also increased the percentage related to affordability.

Andrea Davis, executive director of Homeward, said that while the project includes 4% tax credits and public funding, the bulk of the dollars are from private funds received through the housing tax credit program.

“We use that money to actually help build the project,” Davis said. “We’re not only responsible to a private equity investor, but also the state government that manages this program for the federal government. There’s a lot of regulatory oversight.”

Missoula County agreed to donate the original 4 acres to the Trinity project last year, and the developers have worked to secure the financing and detail the plans ever since.

The project includes 3 separate buildings, including the 100 unit apartment and a 30-unit supportive housing facility. It will also include a navigation center offering counseling, community space, limited medical services and food, and lockers.

The navigation center will be connected to the supportive housing element of the project and serve the homeless and other at-risk individuals.

“Folks who are living with homelessness may have income in the form of Social Security disability, they may have veterans income or some other form of income,” Davis said. “If they don’t have income already, by living at the site, we may be able to connect them with the resources they’re eligible for. We don’t want to limit those folks from being able to access housing at this site.”

Eran Pehan, director of the city’s office of housing and community development, said the city has been in talks with the development team and area service providers on how the navigation center will operate, what services it will offer, and what the budget might be.

She said navigation centers are considered best practice in providing support while serving individuals who have been living unsheltered or in encampments and have barriers toward accessing housing.

“They’re really designed to identify and fill gaps in the community and compliment other service programming where it exists,” Pehan said. “The city has offered to step into the role of master lease holder for the portion of the development that will serve as the navigation center, and also serve as the macro level operator of the program.”

Pehan said the city and its partners will create an operational budget, which could require further investment from the city and county. The city provided funding to the center in its FY21 budget.

“Our goal at the conclusion of the planning work would be to work alongside the county to draft a (contract) to identify a qualified organization that could run the day-to-day services,” Pehan said. “Depending on the programming recommendations, it could be one service provider or multiple providers.”

Building permits for the entire Trinity project should be secured this winter. Construction is scheduled next spring and the project should be finished and occupied by late 2022.

“We know we need those homes now,” said Davis. “We’re full steam ahead to get this accomplished as soon as possible.”