FY 2020 budget: Housing office seeks positions for policy implementation, climate action

Eran Pehan, center, director of Missoula’s Office of Housing and Development, said the three positions sought by her office are needed to meet federal grant programs and implement a host of new city policies.(Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

The city’s Office of Housing and Community Development is seeking a number of new positions to help implement new policies and plans around housing, homelessness and climate change.

The City Council will consider the funding requests as it moves to adopt next year’s municipal budget. Fire, the City Attorney’s Office and Public Works have all presented their requests for next year’s budget.

Eran Pehan, director of Housing and Community Development, said the three positions sought by her office are needed to meet federal grant programs and implement a host of new city policies.

They include $57,000 to hire a full-time employee to help implement the city’s new housing policy, and $50,000 to help fund an emergency winter shelter. That request matches what’s been asked of Missoula County.

Pehan’s funding requests also include $52,000 for an energy conservation program specialist. The position would increase the department’s capacity to implement the city’s goals around zero waste and 100 percent clean electricity.

“We’ve adopted plans that are visionary and actionable,” said Pehan. “If we want to focus on both of these areas and see tangible results, we need to invest in the capacity needed to be successful there.”

All three positions sought by Housing and Community Development are included in the mayor’s proposed budget, though a number of other requests remain unfunded.

They include additional funding for community partners, such as $35,000 for Home Resources to help achieve the city’s goals around zero waste, and $30,000 to Climate Smart Missoula to help move the city toward its goals of 100 percent clean electricity.

“I continue to believe that we have opportunities with our partners on a contract basis or maybe even beyond that,” said Mayor John Engen. “I’d like to make sure that under (Pehan’s) management, with a new position, we’re a little more strategic in how we proceed, so that’s why the funding for those partner organizations isn’t in there today.”

Chase Jones, the city’s energy conservation and climate action coordinator, said his office has a number of lofty goals set for next year. That includes crunching the results of a baseline study called for in the city’s Zero by Fifty plan, and crafting a universal waste ordinance.

A plastic bag ordinance is also forthcoming.

“We have the go-ahead of Mayor Engen to develop that ordinance,” Jones said. “We are developing language to that end, and I have just today sent the justifications for that ordinance to those parties as a step moving forward. That will happen in the next year.”

On the housing front, Pehan said her office also has a number of goals for next year, including implementation of the city’s housing policy and clearing the way for redevelopment of the Riverfront Triangle through a Brownfield loan program.

It also plans to launch a “zero mobility grant” and expand the city’s Coordinated Entry System and its homeless diversion program.

“Our goal there is to identify families that have a lower risk of chronic homelessness and support them where they are with family or to help look to natural support systems as opposed to entering the homeless delivery systems,” Pehan said.

The mayor’s proposed budget for Housing and Community Development also excludes $9,000 to help fund a library safety officer, a $7,000 increase to Arts Missoula, and a $44,000 increase sought by Missoula Aging Services.

The service will be funded at last year’s amount of roughly $198,000 under the proposed budget.

“We fund Aging Services every year to a degree, and we intend to fund them again this year,” said Engen. “But I don’t want to do it the way we’ve always done it. I fully intend to figure out a way to fund, provided you all agree. It has nothing to do with a desire to fund, but everything to do with making the mechanics work and finding a path forward.”

Council member Bryan von Lossberg said the unfunded requests for city partners working on climate change should also get a second look.

“We can’t achieve our goals around zero waste and climate work without the partners we have in our community,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re positioned to support our partner organizations in the community for the work I think we depend on them to do to help us achieve our goals. While they’re not in the current budget, I want to flag them to explore.”