Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Residents of a manufactured home park in Lolo will soon own their property now that Missoula County has signed off on two loans to aid in the purchase.

Commissioners on Thursday approved a $310,000 loan agreement with NeighborWorks Montana to help purchase the Two Rivers Mobile Home Park. They also approved a separate $100,000 loan from the county's Housing Innovation Fund.

Garrick Harmel, the county's housing specialist, said the agreement marks the first time the county has allocated funding from the innovation fund.

“This was the first program and opportunity where we got to use that fund,” said Harmel. “It allows these home owners to take control of their home finances. They can vote on what they want to do with their expenses and rent, and take control over their futures.”

The county last November invested $750,000 into the Housing Innovation Fund. It said the one-time investment will enable it to address specific housing needs aimed at affordability.

Harmel on Thursday said the program represents a “nimble and flexible” funding source and the $100,000 loan will be paid back over time.

“It's a 0% interest loan with a 10-year term,” he said. “In 10 years, it will be paid back to the county in full.”

Efforts among residents to purchase the Two Rivers Mobile Home Park date back to last year when NeighborWorks Montana began seeking funding to help residents close the deal.

The property went under contract late last year and could close next week. The asking price was roughly $5.3 million, or $90,000 per lot, which remains below cost in other resident-owned communities.

Becoming a resident-owned community gives owners more control over their future, advocates said.

“This allows them to have some decision making power to secure their housing in the future,” said county grants administrator Heidi West. “It's exciting they'll have control over where they live.”

Like the city, the county recently adopted a housing action plan that, among other things, looks to preserve existing affordable housing.

Commissioner Josh Slotnick said the Housing Innovation Fund was a good tool to help pursue preservation.

“Once they're owners, they'd be in charge of what the lot rents would be,” Slotnick said. “It's far cheaper to preserve affordable housing than it is to build more.”