Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) If funding pans out and residents buy in, a manufactured home park on prime real estate in Lolo could soon become resident owned.

The Two Rivers manufactured home park includes 59 individual lots adjacent to Traveler's Rest, a historic landmark off Lolo Creek.

Kaia Peterson, executive director of NeighborWorks Montana, said the property is currently under contract and could close by Feb. 15 once financing is arranged and due diligence is complete. Missoula County could also be asked to help back the project through various grants.

“The seller has been working with our staff for about a year,” Peterson said this week. “We were able to negotiate a price they were comfortable with.”

Of the 59 homes in Two Rivers, 22 have already joined as members of the future cooperative. Such cooperatives have become a popular tool in preserving affordable housing at a time when property values and home costs are at record highs.

But while the cooperative would protect the property from redevelopment and keep residents in place, they would still see an increase in lot prices of roughly $260, which is above the national average of $220. Residents currently pay between $400 and $500, Peterson said.

“It's typical of what we're seeing across the country, and it's typical of what we're seeing with projects in Montana,” Peterson said. “It's definitely a big change for residents, but one they're often willing to take because the alternatives are slim.”

Peterson set the asking price for the property is around $5.3 million, or $90,000 per lot. But that remains below similar cooperatives including Bonnie's Place in Missoula, where the price of a lot is around $100,000. A similar project in Bellgrade has lots going for $134,000.

“The options for low-cost housing are fewer and fewer,” said Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick.

Peterson said the project looks to take its first mortgage from the state's Coal Tax Trust Fund, which offers a low interest rate of 4% over 40 years.

“To make projects like this work, we really need to layer sources of financing,” she said. “We're really doing everything we can to meet the seller's market rate while setting the residents up for success with affordable financing.”

NeighborWorks Montana has helped 19 manufactured home parks become resident owned. That includes 720 unique households.

The Two River project would pad those figures and, to move forward, it needs 51% participation from residents, though the goal is to reach 60%. For residents of such affordable housing, alternative options in Missoula are limited.

“It's been interesting looking at the market,” Peterson said. “Most recently, prices in Frenchtown and Lolo, housing prices are higher than what we're seeing in city limits. That's a new dynamic. That's just based on what's currently listed on the market.”