Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) New language adopted by the Montana Legislature around the definition of infrastructure helped fuel the approval of a large workforce housing project planned for Missoula's Northside Neighborhood.

The Missoula City Council on Monday night placed its final stamp of approval on a number of agreements surrounding the project, including its relationship with Ravara LLC and it's plans to bond up to $9.8 million to make the project pencil.

The bond will help subsidize the cost of for-sale workforce housing and fund area infrastructure, including streets and utilities. The project is set to begin construction this spring.

“For two years, people worked diligently to make this happen. Interest rates rose and inflation rose, and still people kept going to make this a reality,” said council member Jennifer Savage. “What started as a unicorn piece of property is now turning into the largest development of workforce housing in the state, and the first time we've been able to use tax increment financing for workforce housing. It's something to celebrate.”

The Legislature recently added workforce housing to the definition of infrastructure. It enabled the Missoula Redevelopment Agency to direct tax increment financing to qualifying projects, and the development off Scott Street marks the first time the program has been used in Montana to subsidize housing.

As planned, the project will set 3 acres aside in a community land trust and offer 46 income-restricted workforce homes for sale, along with 43 market-rate homes. The remaining six acres will include roughly 225 market-rate rental units, along with childcare and commercial amenities.

Current modeling suggests the workforce housing units will market between $170,000 and $250,000, according to Emily Harris-Shears, the city's housing policy specialist.

“These are not the final numbers. The process for setting home prices locks in when the project is fully done,” said Harris-Shears. “It's likely the project will be done next year and after, so we'll use updated median area incomes and updated interest rates to finalize the price.”

A map of the project as planned.
A map of the project as planned.

Still, city officials lauded the project and the partnerships that were required to bring it together. The financing also represents a complex blend of agreements between the city and Ravara, the project's developer.

With supply and affordability an issue, the project could help fill a community need, officials said.

“Supply is an issue, will remain an issue and we've got to do a lot to improve that. We're not going to catch up by letting the market take care of itself,” said council member Mike Nugent. “This is a great use of public money to help create home ownership, but also create a lot of market-rate in an area of town we've designated as ready for this type of growth and development.”