Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) In hopes of providing attainable housing for its employees and other disabled residents, one of Missoula's oldest nonprofits plans to construct a housing project on its Third Street property and relocate several programs.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency's board of commissioners on Monday approved a $2.4 million request for tax increment to help fund the project, planned by Opportunity Resource Inc.

While a number of hurdles remain before the project becomes a reality, those behind the effort said the housing complex will fill a gap in providing affordable housing to those with disabilities while providing some financial stability to Opportunity Resources.

Funding the project, estimated at roughly $11 million, represents a complex package of grants, tax credits and tax increment financing. It may be until October before the full financial equation comes together.

“There are lot of pieces to the project and a lot of funding sources the development team is seeking,” said Annette Marchesseault with MRA. “A part of that is the state's Low Income Housing Tax Credits. They won't know on the tax credits until October, but the TIF request is a key piece of funding, along with those other funding sources.”

Because the state tax credits won't be awarded until winter if the application is accepted by the Montana Board of Housing, MRA on Monday granted Opportunity's request for tax increment in exchange for a lien. The city would hold the lien on a portion of the property and release it once the project is completed.

The funding approved by MRA includes $929,000 to complete demolition and site work, and $1.5 million to cover the construction gap to build 24 units of income-restricted housing.

“We hear regularly from employers that their employees are having a hard time finding housing in the Missoula market,” said Annie Gorski, deputy director of MRA. “This will help meet that need.”

The project, dubbed Opportunity Place, is the second income-restrict project MRA has approved this year for funding under new language adopted by the Legislature. The state two years ago added workforce housing to the definition of infrastructure, allowing tax increment for the first time to go toward vertical construction.

The project's location.
The project's location.

At the same time, MRA also adopted a new policy permitting tax increment for projects that need help covering the gap between the true cost of construction and renting or selling the end product on an income-restricted basis. MRA provided similar funding to a project under development off Scott Street earlier this year.

“Such projects must provide a period of affordability, which is consistent with the Montana Board of Housing,” said Gorski. “This will be a mixed-income development that includes 24-for rent units, which will all be income-restricted serving households earning between 40% and 80% of the area median income.”

As planned, the project will unfold in three phases, starting with deconstruction of the site's existing warehouse and preparation work. At that point, Opportunity Resources will fill a condominium declaration to create three separate legal lots, one for a commercial building, one for the apartments and one for a small pocket park.

The commercial lot will house the organization's “Artists of Opportunity” program. The apartments will include nine 1-bedroom units and 15 units with two bedrooms and two baths.

“Eight of the rental units will be ADA accessible units for those folks in wheelchairs,” said Gorski. “Each home can accommodate wheelchairs. The others will be adaptable so they can be adapted to be ADA accessible units.”

Opportunity Resources also plans to move its classroom from its Russell Street property to the new Third Street facility. The existing woodshop, currently located on the Third Street property, also will move with Tripp Lumber when it relocates to the north side.

“We're down to 12 adults with disabilities working over there, but we're going to transfer anybody who wants to Tripp Lumber,” said one project member. “It's worked out perfectly for everything we want to do.”

The development team includes Opportunity Resources Inc., along with Mike Bouchee of Bouchee Development LLC and Jennifer Clary, principal architect of Encompass Design.