Missoula City Council appoints housing committee members, tweaks bylaws

Members of the Missoula City Council this week appointed the first five members to the Affordable Housing Resident Oversight Committee and tweaked the language guiding the new group.

The city created its Affordable Housing Trust fund last summer. Once seated, the committee will recommend allocating funding from the trust fund toward certain housing needs and projects.

“I think this committee is really important to this community and we took it very seriously,” said council member Gwen Jones. “We have this affordable housing issue that’s overwhelmingly difficult. We only have a few tools to impact very strong economic forces.”

Emily Harris Shears, the city’s trust fund administrator, said the recruitment process netted 44 applicants. After some attrition, 33 applicants were interviewed.

Of those interviews, 14 applicants represented general community members and seven represented community members with experience seeking housing assistance.

Two interviews were held with members of a housing nonprofit, seven with members of the real estate community, and two from members of the banking industry. The committee bylaws require a mix of all categories.

“The selection process was designed to be equitable and represent a robust and comprehensive cross section of the community,” said council member Mirtha Becerra. “It was a guiding principal for selecting the future members of the committee. The process was centered around diversity, race, expertise and lived experience.”

The city’s appointments, approved on Wednesday, include Paul Herendeen from the banking and finance industry and Katie Carlson from the housing and real estate industry. The appointments also include Laura Bird – a community member with experience seeking housing assistance – and community member Will Sebern.

Bobbie Jo Weston was also seated as an alternative. The city mayor will get three appointments and likely bring them next month while Missoula County gets one appointment and is expected to make it next week.

Given the number of applicants from the general community, council members agreed to increase the number of members from that sector to two.

“We had this big category of community members, where we had strong applicants but very narrow spots,” Jones said. “We wanted to reflect a little more through the appointed spots the proportionality of the applicants. It’s truly the biggest category.”

Once seated, the Affordable Housing Resident Oversight Committee will oversee key functions of the trust fund. Among other things, it will approve the administrative policies and the annual allocation plan, or how to direct funds from the trust fund to certain projects.

The committee will not make funding decisions for every project supported by the trust fund. The council on Tuesday also approved some subtle language changes to the ordinance.

“This has been a learning process,” said council member Julie Merritt. “This has some different aspects to it. These changes are to reflect what we learned as we moved through the interview process and how the committee was going to work.”