Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The Missoula City Council on Monday night approved a recommendation to spend $181,000 in reserve funding from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help the residents of a mobile home park purchase their property.

The funding awarded to Neighborworks Montana is what remains in a reserve account built into the trust fund program when it was created several years ago. Other funding remains available in a separate account for other projects, the city has said.

Spending down the reserve account passed on a unanimous vote.

“It's important we preserve the currently affordable homes in Missoula we have already in place,” said council member Daniel Carlino. “I hope we can put more and more money into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund in this upcoming budget.”

The city is required under its housing policy to contribute at least $100,000 annually into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency also invests $1 million annually into the program using tax increment financing to help support affordable housing projects.

The two combined total $1.1 million annually in public funding, but there's much more to come.

The city also is sitting on nearly a half-dozen properties it owns, including two entire downtown blocks and property off Johnson Street. The previous mayor administration dubbed the practice “land banking.”

One of the city's other properties off West Broadway is set to appear among market listings in the coming weeks for an asking price of $890,000. A contract with Ravera LLC that's worth around $6 million also is in place for nine acres off Scott Street. A portion of that project also will including affordable housing.

The majority of the City Council supports such alternative ways to fund the housing trust fund.

“A lot of mobile home parks are getting sold so a big developer can come put high density apartments in, or whatever it is," said council member Kristen Jordan. "It's important to preserve how people are living already."

City housing policy specialist Emily Harris-Shears over the past few months has said while draining the reserve account will leave it void of funding, the money will go far in helping 28 households secure a more certain future by owning the land on which sit their homes.

The property is located in the Franklin to the Fort neighborhood and the application submitted by Neighborworks was the only one the city received, Harris-Sheers has said.

“We're not saving the reserve balance for a rainy day because it's raining now,” she said. “This is a project that could support the retention of 24 homes for people in our community.”