Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With the spring construction season nearing, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency is working to fill the funding gap in a Northside workforce housing project and the infrastructure needed to support it.

The Board of Commissioners on Thursday recommended a $9.8 million bond to complete the work. The Missoula City Council will consider the bond recommendation in the coming weeks.

The funding, if approved, would help build a workforce housing project off Scott Street and its associated infrastructure, including roads and utilities. The project would cover three acres in a community land trust with 89 for-sale units, including 46 income-restricted units.

The city has partnered with Ravara to complete the project.

“They're essentially serving as the city's development agent on this project,” said Annie Gorski, deputy director at MRA. “They're not taking a development fee. They're not taking a profit on this project. This project would not happen but for the tax increment investment.”

The project has been in the works for years and construction is now expected to begin this spring. But the total budget has been a moving target, and MRA is working to pin down the final costs and the revenue sources to fund it.

Among other things, MRA plans to apply for a new state program with the Montana Board of Investments and its Housing Infrastructure Revolving Bond program. If approved, the program would purchase half of the city's Series A bond, which has been established to cover the infrastructure costs.

The state bond carries a lower interest rate.

“We're leveraging a number of resources here to put this project to reality,” said Gorski. “This will be presented to their committee in early February.”

The current cost of the Series A bond stands at $5.7 million, which includes an increase in contingency costs for both infrastructure and earthwork. The Series B bond, which covers the funding gap for workforce housing, stands at $4 million.

The two together come to $9.8 million and will be considered by the City Council next month.

“This is across the the entire bond, so both Series A, which is focused on infrastructure, and Series B, which is focused on workforce housing,” said Gorski.

Housing

The city purchased 19 acres off Scott Street in 2020 for $6.6 million. Roughly half the property, which formerly served as White Pine Sash, was cleaned to residential standards and will soon accommodate a blend of workforce and market-rate housing.

A portion of the $5.7 million in infrastructure costs is earmarked for additional soil removal. MRA recently completed a geotechnical analysis and found soil conditions more ideal than what was previously thought, which could save costs.

Still, MRA is planning for any surprises that may turn up once construction begins.

“You're dealing with a second or third generation construction site. You don't know what you're going to find,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of MRA.

The top third of the nine-acre project is reserved for affordable housing on a community land trust while the bottom two-thirds will go to workforce housing.
The top third of the nine-acre project is reserved for affordable housing on a community land trust while the bottom two-thirds will go to workforce housing.
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As part of its agreement with Ravara, the city expects a blend of income-restricted housing units on three acres set aside as a community land trust. The townhomes will include a blend of three- and four-bedroom units while the condominiums will range from studios to two-bedroom units.

Gorski said the project will include 89 for-sale units, including 46 income-restricted units. The income-restricted portion represents the funding gap MRA is working to cover between their true cost and their discounted sales rate, which is targeted to households earning 120% of the area median income.

MRA's board of commissioners also authorized the agency's director or the board chair to approve contingency costs for earthwork and infrastructure once construction begins. Doing so avoids delays, which could increase costs.

“It provides another level of oversight to our processes,” said board member Tasha Jones. “There has to be a more timely response in the field, otherwise we increase the cost of the project by virtue of delay.”

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