MISSOULA — With an eye on housing and economic opportunity, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency will invest in a number of projects intended to shelter those with special needs and remove a Midtown property from Superfund listing to prepare it for redevelopment.
The investments approved by the board of commissioners at this month’s meeting include $25,000 to cover due diligence of the Bridge Apartments, which the city intends to purchase for the asking price of $2.1 million.
After the property’s initial buyer changed course, Western Montana Mental Health agreed to accept the city’s offer, though the deal remains on a tight timeline. The apartment complex includes 20 units that house low-income tenants with special needs.
“We believe with the current housing situation in Missoula, should this housing no longer be available to the current tenants, some or all would be in a situation of not being able to find a home. If this property is not kept in public ownership, or ownership that is restricted by an interim property ownership, we have no control over what happens with those apartments.” - MRA Director Ellen Buchanan.
Western Montana Mental Health built the apartment complex using public funding, including tax increment financing, around 20 years ago. The deal kept the apartments as affordable, at least until the required period affordability ended.
The city fears that if the property fell into private ownership, the apartments could go for market rate and displace the current occupants. The average rent at the facility stands at around $450 a month for a one-bedroom unit.
But only three of the 20 tenants have a housing voucher, said Eran Pehan, director of Community Planning, Development and Innovation.
“We’re working with the Missoula Housing Authority to pair the remaining 17 tenants with housing vouchers, which will bring their rental liability down even further, making it easier for them to pay for food, medication and health care,” Pehan said. “That provides much better stability for those tenants, and better financial stability for the property.”
In the Midtown district, MRA also approved $67,000 in tax increment as a local match for an EPA Brownfields grant of $327,000 awarded last year. The funding will help remove the property from Superfund listing by preparing a cleanup plan. It will also cover the cost of clearing the site for future use.
City officials said the environment assessment completed for the site revealed few issues that would hinder cleanup and redevelopment. The property currently includes a number of old buildings.
“The overarching goal is to be able to add to our housing stock,” said John Adams, the city’s Brownfields administrator. “We believe the most important thing to be done is asbestos abatement in these structures. It’s something we need to address to demolish the buildings.”
The city purchased the 12-acre property from Montana Rail Link in 2016 for roughly $2 million. It spent the following two years testing and cleaning portions of the site before redeveloping 4 acres into a city park.
The remaining 7 acres will eventually be redeveloped into a blend of housing, retail and other potential uses. Working through the delisting process with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality is the next step, Buchanan said.
That could coincide with work to complete a master plan for redevelopment.
“Once DEQ approves the cleanup plan, we could go ahead and start that public process pretty quickly,” Buchanan said. “Cleanup could be going along with the public process simultaneously. This is the lynchpin that lets us start moving forward with redevelopment.”