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City of Missoula awards nearly $1M in housing grants, but federal changes could end funding

Missoula Housing Interior
Posted at 10:18 AM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 12:18:06-04

MISSOULA  — The City of Missoula will distribute this year’s federal housing funds to a handful of organizations to help boost housing opportunities for low and moderate-income residents across the city.

But the bulk of this year’s grants, or roughly $502,000, will be directed to a navigation center tucked into the Trinity affordable housing project planned at West Broadway and Mullan Road.

The $502,000 allocation awarded to the navigation center consumes nearly all of the $563,000 given to Missoula this year in Community Development Block Grants.

“It (navigation center) provides access to supportive services that will work with programs already in place to help divert people from unnecessary hospitalization or incarceration, and focus on breaking the cycle of chronic homelessness,” said Karen Gassvod, a grant planner with the city.

The funding arrives annually from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is derived from two sources. That includes $560,000 in Community Development Block Grants and $365,000 from HOME allocations.

The remainder of the CDBG funding includes $18,000 to the YWCA to help with its family housing center, $28,000 to the Poverello for its rapid intake program, and $13,000 to Homeword to provide financial education.

“These dollars come with substantial reporting requirements and conditions,” said council member Bryan von Lossberg. “We collectively reached consensus around what was the most strategic use of the money.”

While the request for CDBG funding exceeded by more than $1 million what the city received, this year’s allocation of HOME funds was enough to support this year’s applications.

The HOME funding includes $270,000 to Habitat for Humanity to help with home-buyer assistance for nine properties in East Missoula. It also includes $316,000 for Homeward to supplement its Trinity housing project and $15,000 to support other community housing programs.

“These are federal dollars that come to us every year,” said council member Gwen Jones. “They don’t increase with inflation. Each year they become all the more valuable, and it’s important to use them wisely.”

A recent community needs assessment conducted earlier this year by the city found that the lack of affordable homes to buy, and the lack of affordable homes to rent, were the top housing challenge facing Missoula.

The same survey found that among the projects the city could fund with its federal grants, building housing that’s affordable to those earning less than the median wage was the top priority, along with varying forms of housing assistance.

“Missoula’s real estate market has long been out of reach for those with low incomes,” said grants planner Kendra Lisum. “The vacancy rate is less than 1% and the median home purchase price is $425,000. That doesn’t include the number of renters who are cost burdened.”

While providing more affordable housing stands as a major goal of local governments and housing advocates, moving the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless remains high on the radar.

The navigation center is planned as part of the 202-unit Trinity affordable housing project, which will include 30 units reserved for low-threshold housing clients.

The navigation center will offer a suite of services, from food security to treatment for substance abuse. It may also provide mental health services, life skills and financial training, reintegration for the jail population, case management and an on-site clinic, among others.

The Trinity project is expected to break ground this year.

“We heard a lot in last year’s budget cycle about standing up the mobile crisis unit. The second piece of that plan is having someplace to take people in crisis,” said council member Stacie Anderson. “The Trinity project will be able to provide some of that for our community. I’m glad we still have the funding opportunities to do so.”

But those funding opportunities may be at risk. With its current population of around 75,000 residents, Missoula is considered an entitlement city, qualifying it for federal funding such as HOME funds.

The Office of Management and Budget however is looking to change what qualifies as a metropolitan statistical area. The change – opposed by Montana’s congressional delegation – would increase the population threshold from 50,000 to 100,000 people.

Nearly 150 cities in the U.S. Would lose status as a metropolitan statistical area, including Missoula, Bozeman and Great Falls. Future housing grants could vanish as a result.

“It’s still a question in play,” von Lossberg said. “We’re watching it closely.”