MISSOULA — A mobile home park comprised of roughly 60 units off Mullan Road could become the next neighborhood in Missoula to shift from private to community ownership, though the effort remains young.
Missoula County this week agreed to apply for a $15,000 planning grant from the Montana Coal Endowment Program to help fund a preliminary engineering report to explore the cost of connecting Old Hellgate Village to city services.
Doing so would mark the first of many steps needed to convert the park to a resident-owned community – an effort that’s growing in popularity to help low-income residents keep their homes.
“It’s a trailer court that’s working with NeighborWorks to become a resident-owned community,” said Sindie Kennedy, a grants administrator with Missoula County. “They want to connect with city sewer and they’ve been working with WGM Group for a preliminary report. This grant will partially support the cost of that.”
The report carries a total cost of $30,000, and while the county applies for a grant to cover half of it, NeighborWorks Montana has stepped in to help finance the remainder.
As part of their housing strategy, both the city and county of Missoula have identified the preservation of existing affordable housing as key. While that’s not always possible in all circumstances, new efforts have emerged to help the residents of area mobile home parks purchase the land beneath them.
Mobile home parks in Missoula, often viewed as affordable housing, are at greater risk of redevelopment as the city grows and land values rise. The former Hansen’s Trailer Park on S. Third Street was lost in 2014 for a housing redevelopment while residents of the Skyview Trailer Park were displaced in 2017.
The demand for land in Missoula is high, and many landowners are looking to develop or redevelop their property. NeighborWorks Montana has stepped in to help on a number of occasions with an eye on preservation.
“They have the capacity to finance the transition – buying the Old Hellgate Village property from the current owner,” said Kennedy. “They help with the financing end of it and the organization of it. They help them become a nonprofit, and they help develop their bylaws and board.”
While some mobile home parks have vanished, others have endured, including Buena Vista. Residents of that neighborhood came together in 2013 to form a cooperative that purchased the land and infrastructure, enabling residents to control their rent, make their rules, and keep their homes.
The county has applied for several million dollars in grants to help connect Buena Vista to city services. It hopes to do the same at Old Hellgate Village if that effort comes to fruition.
“The ability to preserve the affordable housing that’s out there is more important in the moment than creating new affordable housing,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick.