MISSOULA — By the end of September, the City of Missoula will have received $260,000 in rent on its Sleepy Inn property, or roughly one-quarter of the $1.1 million used to purchase the property in April for a quarantine shelter.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency pays rent expenses, as well as most of the operating expenses, with the State of Montana also covering certain costs. The payments utilizing that funding are made by the Missoula City-County Health Department.
According to Missoula City Council member and health board member Amber Sherrill, Missoula has had roughly 70 individuals use the non-congregate shelter thus far.
Council members purchased the property in April, with opponents arguing concerns over cost and due diligence. But Sherrill said it’s been a good investment, even if some deemed it overpriced.
“I know we had to move fast on it,” Sherrill said. “And that was some of the complaints around it – you’re moving too fast. Is it really worth this much money? But we needed it for this non-congregate shelter. And the bottom line is, if it was fifty thousand dollars too much, we’ve made that up. And I knew we were going to make that up in our rent for the place.”
After the rent has been collected in September, their expenditure to date on the property will be $840,000.
Sherrill said they’re seeing the amount of people in the shelters ebb and flow with some staying the two to 14 days needed for effective quarantine. Nine people who are 65 and older who have underlying conditions are isolating at the motel long-term.
Before the Sleepy Inn purchase, people who needed non-congregate shelters would be booked at various hotels around Missoula. It was costly and difficult to manage compared to the Sleepy Inn, according to Sherrill.
“So they were in different hotels, and lots of hotels weren’t willing to do it. You know, everyone was scared,” she said. “That was not only hard on the City-County Health Department, but it was just really inefficient.”
After the immediate need of Sleepy Inn ends as a shelter, as will be determined by the health department, the property will be redeveloped to include affordable housing.
Sherrill said after the immediate value of the hotel as a shelter diminishes, that’s where the value in ownership of the property emerges. She called the property a “solid strategic decision,” and especially after COVID-19, the affordable housing issue isn’t going to subside.
“If you own the property, you have more control over what goes there. Like instead of a fancy high rise, we’ll be able to determine what is needed,” Sherrill said.