Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula's department of development and planning detailed is successes in FY23 and presented its new funding requests for the new fiscal year as the budgeting season advanced into its second week on Wednesday.

Its new requests include $1.59 million in funding to retain a specialist to help update the growth policy, pad the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and provide gap funding to developers in exchange for deed-restricted housing.

Pursuing the city's goals around clean electricity and a renewable rate option are also on the list of requests, along with funding to host a housing education summit and retain software to track vacation rentals.

Eran Pehan, director of Community Planning, Development and Innovation said a majority of the requests include one-time funding with goals to make some requests permanent. Several requests have been included in the mayor's executive budget while others have not.

“They're aimed at helping the city achieve is goals as outlined in our recently adopted strategic plan,” said Pehan. “These are things like the Our Missoula Growth Policy, the code reform update, and the clean electricity and renewable rate option.”

Successes in FY23

Walter Banzinger, deputy director of Development Services, said the department saw 150 single-unit residential permits pulled in FY23, along with 17 duplexes and 530 multi-unit permits. Those figures are down from previous years.

“In 2023, likely as a result of the economy and interest rates, we saw a slowdown in new building permits and units permitted,” he said. “But our revenue stayed on track.”

However, the number of building permits issued in FY23 remain comparable to past years in areas like renovations and home improvements. In land use and planning, they've seen an increase in development demand.

Banzinger said subdivisions have increased in the last year in terms of applications and don't show signs of slowing down.

“We've approved four subdivisions creating 473 single-dwelling lots, 365 multi-dwelling units and two commercial lots,” said Banzinger. “Currently, 10 active subdivision applications are in review.”


Looking forward, Banzinger said the department looks to refine its tracking system, recruit a new chief building official and advance the city's code reform and growth policy updates. It's also working to fill a number of vacancies.

“We continue to recruit new staff members to replace the losses from attrition,” he said. “This year alone, we've seen three of our current planners move on to other opportunities, one in the department and two leaving the state for other opportunities with a more affordable lifestyle.”

The department also includes Community Design and Livability which, among other things, addresses “pressing needs and the most vulnerable residents” in Missoula. That includes the city's Houseless Programs, shelter efforts and the Coordinated Entry System.

Montana James, deputy director of Community Development, said the department's FY23 success included the launch of a new model to engage with “marginalized and underrepresented communities” in Missoula while working to update land-use bills adopted during the Legislature.

It's also working toward the city's climate action goals.

“They moved some large multi-year projects forward. We completed a year-long housing displacement outreach project. We also continue to work to refine and work to develop the voluntary incentives programs for both affordable housing and energy efficiency.”

James said the Houseless Programs team has had a “tumultuous few years” balancing its backbone role in the Coordinated Entry System while also addressing needs around shelter and the growing plight of nonprofits working to address the issue.

She praised the city for being proactive.

“Thanks to the foundational work the city provides, the system as a whole has helped 190 households secure permanent housing since July 1 of last year,” said James. “With that system-level work and responding to emergent shelter needs, our Houseless Programs team has completed the evaluation of Reaching Home, the 2012 plan to end homelessness. It will set us up well to take on the development of that next strategy.”

New funding requests

This budget season, the department is seeking a number of new requests, including $99,000 for a community engagement specialist and $100,000 to pursue clean electricity. It's also asking for $700,000 to expand the capacity of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and $500,000 to create a voluntary incentives program around affordable housing.

Homeless campers in Missoula. (KPAX image)
Homeless campers in Missoula. (KPAX image)

Some requests aren't included in the mayor's executive budget and adding them could impact the final number of mills the city must levy to fund its programs, which carries tax implications.

“Our team has identified about $3.3 million in projects in the pipeline in the community that could benefit from additional funding, primarily through gap funding,” Pehan said. “It would enable the immediate support of those projects so they can go forward.”

She said the revenue would be used to preserve affordable housing, bank land for future housing projects and expand developer capacity.

While the department's new requests add up to around $1.59 million, they don't yet include probable requests around homelessness and shelter. Pehan said those requests will be presented in the coming weeks.

“These requests will be coming to council in August as part of a more comprehensive conversation that includes budget considerations across departments. This will allow us to consider the effects and our efforts to address public health and safety issues, along with the short- and long-term solutions that we're in conversation with council about deploying to get to the root of the issue,” Pehan said.

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