Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) An effort to rehabilitate a large affordable housing complex in Missoula got a boost from the state on Tuesday in the form of $1.5 million in investment funds.

The Montana Department of Commerce announced its latest allocation of $9.4 million earmarked for building new or rehabilitating roughly 485 homes in six cities including Missoula, Hamilton, Kalispell, Butte, Helena and Billings.

“It's critical that all Montanans have a safe and affordable place to call home,” Cheryl Cohen, the department's housing division administrator, said in a statement. “This funding will provide homes for Montanans who are at risk of homelessness, in lower wage-earning jobs and those experiencing special needs.”

In Missoula, Homeword will receive $1.5 million in HOME funding to continue rehabilitating the Creekside Apartments. The complex includes 14 buildings containing 161 living units and currently houses around 300 individuals.

As one of Missoula's largest affordable housing projects, the property's potential sale on the open market in 2017 set off alarm bells among housing advocates. The City of Missoula raced to secure a conduit bond to help Homeword purchase the property for $12 million and retain it as affordable housing.

While the property was developed only in 1997, cheap materials and other flaws left it in poor condition, requiring what project advocates described as “wholesale” rehabilitation. Homeword placed the cost of the work at around $9 million.

“As a community, we need to be intentional about not reacting to, but being proactive in managing our affordable housing portfolio,” Heather McMilin, the organization's housing director, told the Missoula Current recently. “There's a point in time where we need to think about infusing money to maintain that affordability. These projects are critical. We can't lose any of them.”

The HOME Program is designed to create affordable homes for lower earning households. The program is financed from federal funds allocated to the state by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The City of Hamilton, along with Sapphire Lutheran Homes, will also receive around $4.1 million from the state to rehabilitate an affordable apartment project for seniors.

“The funding will also allow us to provide an updated and energy efficient housing solution for seniors who currently call The Manor home,” said Cole Harden, the regional senior officer of Sapphire Lutheran Homes in Hamilton. “We're excited about the upcoming transition that will take our aging building and transform it into a modernized asset for the community.”