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Housing tax credits: Missoula’s loss is Billings’, Helena’s gain

Gov. Steve Bullock

A day after the Montana Board of Housing denied tax credits for an affordable senior housing project in Missoula, Gov. Steve Bullock praised the $30.6 million that went to five other Montana communities for the same cause.

That includes $8 million for a Billings project and $7.79 million for a project in Helena, the state capital.

“This is a win-win for Montana,” Bullock said. “Montana families thrive when they have a safe and affordable place to call home, and our economy continues to grow when we are able to house a productive workforce, while creating hundreds of construction jobs in local communities throughout the state.”

Over the past five years, federal housing credits have created an annual 608 jobs on average, along with $27.3 million in local wages, according to the Governor’s Office.

They also provide needed affordable housing by allowing developers to borrow less money for construction and pass the savings on through lower rent.

That was the goal of Missoula developer Alex Burkhalter, who sought to build an affordable housing complex for seniors at 1600 Cooley.

While social service agencies have described the need for affordable housing among Missoula’s seniors as high and growing, the project was denied funding by the Montana Board of Housing.

“Missoula needs affordable housing,” Missoula City Council member Julie Armstrong said Monday night. “We have many people who need help here.”

Along with Billings and Helena, the town of Havre was awarded $3.8 million, Ronan $4.1 million and Whitefish $6.7 million. That latter project was successfully bid by Homeword, a Missoula-based nonprofit.

“There’s no way any of these projects should have gone unfunded,” Missoula City Council member Heidi West said during Monday’s council meeting. “Everyone was equally deserving.”