Missoula Housing Authority looks to future projects, new partners
(Missoula Current) With a growing portfolio, an increase in need and a programmatic shift now complete, the Missoula Housing Authority is looking ahead and searching for new opportunities and partners to take on affordable housing projects.
The housing authority was created by city ordinance in 1978 and operates as an independent public nonprofit. It recently moved its public housing portfolio into the Section 8 housing program and it's currently overseeing $121 million in new construction.
“We believe that affordable housing – housing people can afford – is a basic human right and a community responsibility,” said Lori Davidson, the agency's executive director. “That's what we're always working toward.”
Davidson, who plans to retire soon after years with the agency, said the housing authority has made a number of changes in recent years to better meet the needs of clients. It currently owns and operates 776 rent-restricted apartments and provides rental assistance to more than 1,300 families through housing vouchers.
Most of those rentals are targeted to people earning up to 60% of the area median income, though it also has housing that caters to those earning up to 80% of the area median income.
“That broad range of incomes is what makes a diverse community,” said Davidson. “To the best that we can, we're trying to spread affordable housing throughout Missoula and not put it all in one place.”
In each of the past several years, the housing authority has noted its backlog of clients waiting for vouchers and Missoula's growing need for housing assistance. In an effort to better meet those needs, the agency last year converted all of its public housing to Section 8 vouchers.
Davidson said the change has benefited both the agency and its clients.
“Now, they have something called portability. They can take the voucher they received and move anywhere that has a voucher program. They couldn't do that in public housing. It was a great benefit for the tenants,” Davidson said.
It also helped stabilize the agency's funding platform, she added.
“It reduced the number of regulations we have to follow, the amount of reporting we have to do. But it also increased our income,” Davidson said. “The rent that we get from the tenant and the voucher subsidy is more than we were getting from the public housing subsidy.”
With a strong foundation in place, Davidson said the housing authority is ready to partner in new development. It currently has $121 million in construction taking place that will deliver 404 new affordable housing units next year.
That includes 200 units at the Villagio and 204 at Trinity – a project that sits at two different locations. Both projects represent a partnership with a private developer, with subsidies coming from the city and county, and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.
It takes a broad approach to achieve a project.
“We need to stay focused on managing all the growth that we've already taken on,” said housing authority board member Kaia Peterson. “We also need to continue to do more development to bring on more units to provide more affordable housing. It's a strong interest of ours as a board, and clearly a community need.”
The City of Missoula in recent years has banked a number of properties across that could be paired with a future affordable housing project. Davidson said the agency is activity seeking new partners and land for additional projects.
It will also need a funding stack to complete the work.
“The housing authority doesn't have the capacity to do large projects by ourselves,” Davidson said. “We prefer to work with partners. Bringing in private developers or public partners, that's what we love to do. We can bring some things into someone else's project, and we still have some vouchers we can place into projects.”