1

After first funding round, Missoula to review Affordable Housing Trust allocation process

Montana James, deputy director of the city’s office of Community Development.

One week after announcing its first allocation from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, those behind the effort are reviewing their procedures to improve a process that is still young in its development.

Last week, the Resident Oversight Committee charged with managing Missoula’s newly established trust fund made its first recommendation to City Council. With $300,000 set aside in the first round of funding, and three applications in hand, the committee recommended just one project for $26,000.

Two other projects were denied funding and some confusion lingered around the process. It’s something the oversight committee plans to address, according to Montana James, deputy director of the city’s office of Community Development.

“When we talk about it being the innovation round, a lot of that meant we’re testing and innovating our own tools and application forms and administrative guidelines of the oversight committee,” said James. “It’s more than looking for projects. We’re testing our own tools as well.”

When the city adopted its Affordable Housing Trust Fund two years ago, it required a budgetary allocation of at least $100,000 annually from the city and a goal to grow the balance to $10 million within five years.

Shortly after, the Resident Oversight Committee was established by resolution to oversee the fund. The allocation announced last week represented the committee’s first funding recommendation.

James said the next funding round will likely take place in early February, though the process will begin much sooner. The next round will be connected to funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The amount of the allocation hasn’t been determined.

“We’re trying really hard to strike a balance in making sure we have the protections in place and good tools and policies to protect the funds and the taxpayer dollars we’re investing,” said James. “We want to make sure we’re reaching our goals while making it easier for our partner organizations and applicants.”

James said the guidelines surrounding HUD funding are more restrictive than current city guidelines, though that may change. After the first round of funding, James said they may alter the application process, even if it requires more work on the applicant’s end.

“We learned the value and importance of the pre-application process that we do with our HUD funds,” she said. “It sounds like that’s a valuable process, even if it takes more time. It’s worthwhile.”

City officials said the trust fund currently has a balance of around $3.4 million. With just $26,000 awarded in the first round, the remaining $274,000 will go back into the account.

“It stays in the balance of the trust fund, so it’s available for future rounds,” said James. “Ultimately, the balance of the trust fund will be directed by the Resident Oversight Committee through their allocation planning process, and they’re meeting on that in a couple weeks.”

While the committee streamlines the application process, it will also consider what percent of the trust fund to award in future funding rounds.

The committee is expected to meet next week to begin discussing the allocation plan, or how much of the fund should be committed to different types of projects, and how much should stay in reserve.

“We’re mostly focused on testing these practices and getting some successful projects started and getting some outcomes,” said James. “The Resident Oversight Committee will craft that allocation plan and set those parameters, and direct where the focus of the funds should be in the next round.”