Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The Missoula Redevelopment Agency's board of commissioners on Thursday agreed to reimburse the city $55,000 for the cost of turning an old Midtown building into the Emergency Winter Shelter.

The city-owned facility, located off Johnson Street, needed a number of improvements before it could serve as a shelter, including a fire system and an air exchange unit, among other things.

Now, with little money available to address future shelter needs, the city is looking for funding wherever it can. The TIF revenue approved Thursday will provide some funding from Urban Renewal District III.

“The use of TIF funds for this purpose is allowable since this is a publicly owned building,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “It's important for the city to preserve as much funding as possible to continue to support operations for those in our community who are without housing or in crisis.”

In each of the last two winters, the city covered the shelter's operating costs using federal funding from the American Rescue Plan. But that funding is running out and homeless advocates were hoping that future expenses could be covered by the crisis services levy.

However, the levy failed last November and the city doesn't have funding to operate the shelter beyond this coming winter.

“The city is now faced with how to continue to fund important services such as the winter shelter, the Crisis Intervention Team and the Mobile Support Team,” Buchanan said. “There are virtually no resources available to address this holistically.”

When the city purchased the property, it intended to land bank a portion of it for future redevelopment. The shelter is part of the property that would be redeveloped if and when the city opted to do so.

It's not yet known what the property is worth if sold to a private developer, or if the resulting revenue could be placed toward housing and shelter services at another location.

“It's still to be potentially redeveloped at some point in the future. But we don't know what the relationship between the emergency shelter and the redevelopment might be at this point. I think we're taking it one step at a time,” Buchanan said. “Right now, that's our best option for emergency shelter.”

Without a plan for the property, Buchanan said the city isn't likely to make additional investments into the property.

“Until we understand what the future might hold in terms of a permanent facility, whether it's there or somewhere else, it's hard to make investments in anything that's not essential,” she said.