Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Ongoing efforts to develop 9 acres off Scott Street with a blend of affordable and market rate housing continues to move forward, and the blend of housing types slated for a community land trust is becoming clearer.

The City Council this week opened its required public hearing on the Scott Street Community Land Trust, which comprises around 3 acres on the larger 9 acres eyed for housing in a partnership between the city and Ravara LLC.

The property is currently zoned neighborhood mixed-use and, as proposed, the project would create 89 new units on the land trust. That includes 35 townhomes and four multi-dwelling buildings with around 54 condominiums.

The breakdown of affordable and market-rate housing in the project is still a moving target, said Dawn McGee with Ravara.

“They will either be entirely affordable or a mix of affordable and market rate. It depends on a lot of things going on right now with the cost of building,” said McGee.

The city purchased 19 acres off Scott Street several years ago with hopes of finding a partner to put housing on the property. It found that partner in Ravara, which has been working with the city now for several years to plan and begin the development.

During the planning process, the community land trust emerged as a preferred option on a portion of the city-owned site. Such land trusts bring down the cost of housing by removing the land from the price of the end product.

Still, construction costs are higher than they were several years ago, and Ravara and the city are still trying to make the project pencil to ensure it delivers on affordability.

“We're anticipating that most of the townhouses will be market rate, but we're not sure. We're trying to get as many affordable units as possible on this site,” said McGee. “To the extent we can sell a couple townhomes for top dollar, then we can have more townhomes for under the (AMI) range. It really depends how the initial sales go, how much money at the end of the day can be pushed to make more units available after the capital stack is paid back.”

The proposed development off Scott Street includes 3 acres in a community land trust.
The development off Scott Street includes 3 acres in a community land trust, pictured on the upper side of this site proposal.

To help bring down costs, the city is likely to grant a number of variances to the project, including a reduction in landscaping and a small parking deficit of four spaces for the multi-family condos.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency may also play a role in helping the project achieve greater affordability. Changes in state law now enable MRA to invest tax increment, along with funding from the Montana Board of Investments, to aspects of the project “to provide a sizable number of income-qualified workforce housing units.”

Those units would be donated to the community land trust, according to MRA.

“We've been meeting weekly in an effort to work through the financing required to make both the workforce housing and the mixed-used market-rate projects pencil,” MRA Director Ellen Buchanan wrote in her latest director's report.