Missoula taking public comment on proposed affordable housing project


MISSOULA, Mont. - The city of Missoula is looking for public input on an affordable housing project.

Homeword, a Missoula nonprofit, wants to put six modular homes on a vacant lot at 1717 Montana St. It's currently owned by the Missoula Food Bank.

Andrea Davis is the executive director of Homeword. They conduct first-time home buyer classes and see many working Missoulians facing challenges in trying to buy a house.

"There are many working professionals that earn $40,000 a year, but they cannot break into the homeownership market, because the current amount of money that you need to earn to afford a mortgage for the average sales price home right now is about $90,000 a year," said Davis.

"The fact of the matter is everyone in Missoula is feeling the pinch right now in the homeownership market," said Will Sebern, grants administrator with the city of Missoula Office of Housing and Community Development. "In fact, in the last year, we've seen a decrease in the supply of homes under $150,000 by about 24 percent, and that's where these homes are going to be priced, so this is really an important step in increasing a supply of housing that's affordable for working families in the community."

The project on Montana Street would give five families that earn 80 percent or below the area median income a unique opportunity. That amounts to:

- $37,000/year for a single person - $42,000/year for a family of two - $47,000/year for a family of three

Homeword wants to put six modular homes on the 17,642-square-foot lot. The homes are small. Five of them are two-bedroom units at 550 square feet; the sixth is a single-bedroom unit at 450 square feet.

"It will not work for everybody and every family, but certainly, for some, it's going to be a great opportunity," said Davis.

The homes were originally intended for the Bakken oil fields but were never used. Davis explained the Human Resource Council in Bozeman acquired the units, then sold them to Homeword for about $35,000 each.

Five of the six units would be sold as affordable housing -- at or below 80 percent of the Missoula area median income. The sixth unit would be sold at market value. Davis said the challenge would be making sure that somebody isn't going to try to turn around and sell it for a profit.

"We want to make sure that somebody is not buying that for an investment opportunity and then just flipping it. We want to make sure that somebody is buying that home that is actually wanting to live there and utilize that for their home and move into that neighborhood for the long term," said Davis.

She said they are selling that sixth one-bedroom unit at full market value because the grant they applied for only helps provide funding for five homes, and they had room for six in the lot. Davis said it would also help with the overall project cost. Homeword applied for money from the HOME Investments Partnership Fund -- federal money the city administers. Sebern said they had an application process, and the project on Montana Street scored the highest.

Homeword is requesting $288,924 of the HOME Investments Partnership Fund. It would cover about a third of the total project cost. That pays for the modular homes and having them shipped and stored. Other project costs include buying the lot and developing it.

Cadastral, an online property search for Montana, has the lot listed at a $104,926 value.

Planners want to put each house on a permanent foundation, connected to city water and sewer and each with a service line.

Davis said they have other plans for the lot, as well, including a community garden and a storage shed for each home.

"This is really great public-private partnership where we're providing some grant dollars, and Homeword is leveraging a lot of their own private investment as well and, like I said, this is really going to make a big dent in increasing the supply of affordably priced homes in Missoula, and we're really excited about it," said Sebern.

Homeword does not have a purchase price established yet, but their goal is to sell the units between $80,000 and $100,000, depending on how long they have to pay to store the units and how much developing the lot ends up costing.

The units come fully furnished.

The public can submit comments until Nov. 20. Anyone can submit a comment to the city of Missoula by mailing it to 435 Ryman St., Missoula, MT 59802 or by email to

If the project gets the green light it could be completed in the fall of 2018. Anyone interested can email or call 532-HOME.

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