Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Missoula County and local housing advocates are hoping to continue a program to rehabilitate low- and middle-income housing while urging the state to change the parameters of the program.

Commissioners placed their support behind a new loan application to the Montana Department of Commerce. If approved, the grant would provide funding on a project-by-project basis over the next five years to rehabilitate owner-occupied, single-family homes outside the Missoula city limits.

“Our goal is to rehabilitate a minimum of 10 homes over the next five years,” said program advocate Heidi West. “This application is specific to owner-occupied, single-family housing rehabilitation. We hope the next round of rehab projects can start in the spring of 2023.”

The loan is provided by a Community Development Block Grant tendered by the state and managed by the county. Funding provided by the grant meets the goals of the county's housing action plan to preserve low-cost, market-rate housing, and to rehabilitate owner-occupied homes for those earning 80% or less of the area median income, which is currently $65,000 for a family of four.

Projects accepted into the program are determined on a case-by-case basis and come with a number of rules. The funding invested into a home must be repaid, not in monthly installments but rather, when the home changes ownership at some point in the future.

“This is an income-restricted program,” said Jim Morton with the Human Resource Council. “What we're looking at is to provide items that are related to health and safety. We don't do anything cosmetic. There are rules on what we can and can't do.”

While the funding can't be used for cosmetic purposes, it can help keep the home livable.

“We might do a roof replacement, and we might do windows and doors,” said Ruth Burke, also with the Human Resource Council. “We do energy conservation, and we see heating and plumbing replacements pretty often. Those are the types of things we see.”

Program advocates said they have 13 people on the current waiting list for rehabilitation services. They hope to complete 10 projects over the next five years if the grant is awarded.

Morton said the program has its benefits but under current rules, only one home can be rehabilitated at a time. Advocates of the program said it's an inefficient process given today's labor shortages, supply issues and difficulties securing contractors.

It would be easier to bring a single contractor in on five projects rather that doing it one project at a time, Morton said.

“We could get things done quicker, but those are the rules,” Morton said.

Commissioners urged program advocates to lobby the state for changes.

“It does seem to be an offly rich process,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “If there's a way to streamline it and get more work done on the ground by way of not dolling these things out sequentially but taking more significant bites out of it, we'd be all for that.”