MRA approves infrastructure funding for affordable housing project

A new affordable housing project planned for California Street with join several other projects under construction in the area, including 24-unit complex (front), and a 27 unit project by Homeword (back). (Photo by Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency on Wednesday approved a funding request from the Missoula Housing Authority to help place infrastructure on California Street as part of a small affordable housing project.

The Housing Authority has plans to construct a six-plex apartment unit at a cost of $950,000 at 110 S. California Street. It requested just over $20,000 in tax increment financing to help cover the cost of utility and sidewalk work.

“This allows us to introduce critical pedestrian facilities to a section of California Street that doesn’t currently have sidewalks,” said Tod Gass, senior projects coordinator with MRA. “The funding request covers improvements in the public right of way and electric utility extension.”

The project, made possible by a $700,000 State HOME grant received by the Housing Authority earlier this year, places six affordable units just outside the booming Old Sawmill District near downtown Missoula.

The 7,600-square-foot development includes four one-bedroom units targeting families making less than 80 percent of the area medium income. It also includes two one-bedroom units for families below 50 percent of the area medium income.

“Missoula has a shortfall of affordable housing, especially in this 50- to 80-percent range,” said Gass. “The location is good given the housing trends we’re seeing along California Street.”

Other nearby projects include Sweetgrass Commons, a 27-unit affordable housing project being developed by Homeword, and a separate 24-unit workforce housing project being developed by Don Thompson.

While development picks up along California and Wyoming streets, sections of both roads lack such basic infrastructure as curbs, gutters and sidewalks. How quickly and in what manner the infrastructure falls into place will depend in part on current and future building projects in the district.

“I think they’re looking to MRA for major funding for (those improvements),” said Ellen Buchanan, executive director of MRA. “So far, we haven’t had that kind of funding available.”

Buchanan said the city is concerned that certain improvements to the area could trigger gentrification. To avoid that, she said the city would likely carry the cost of infrastructure improvements as opposed to passing it on to property owners.

“As the Old Sawmill District develops, obviously there’s going to be increased pressure on California and Wyoming,” Buchanan said. “We’ve been putting this off until we had revenue from the Old Sawmill District development that can then be used for infrastructure improvements.”

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