HELENA — Behind Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church, on Helena’s north end, sit several acres of open land.
However, if the church, the city of Helena and local nonprofits are successful, that land could eventually be the center of a major affordable housing partnership.
“There is such a desperate need for housing in our community, and somehow that has to get addressed,” said Gretchen Krumm, a project architect with Mosaic Architecture.
Krumm is working with the church and its partners as they go through a planning process, looking at what it would take to develop just under 10 acres for affordable housing.
She says the church has plans to grow, but it’s not going to use all of the property, "from the time that they purchased this land, it was always the intent to find a compatible community good for the rest of the property."
They began working with local organizations that provide affordable housing, including Helena Area Habitat for Humanity, Rocky Mountain Development Council and YWCA Helena.
The land under consideration is mostly to the west of the church building, between Green Meadow Drive and Obsidian Avenue. The current proposal is to set some land aside into a trust. The partner organizations would then place several different types of affordable housing there.
The latest plans are for about 130 units. Krumm said Rocky would bring in 78 rental units, Habitat would build 33 homes for their family buyers and YWCA would create transitional housing.
“All of them have increasingly growing waitlists of people,” Krumm said. “None of these partners are looking at this project as the end-all to beat all, to solve the problem, but they’re very interested in seeing it happen as soon as possible.”
The city would help develop infrastructure, including a new street, and they would handle the zoning and subdivision processes.
Krumm says the development would also likely include several areas of green space, as well as a community center. However, development is still several years away, and the plans are still very preliminary.
“Nothing is hard and fast about what’s being proposed right now,” said Ellie Ray, a planner for the city of Helena.
City leaders are inviting the public to participate in an online community meeting Tuesday evening, to get a closer look at what’s being talked about and give their feedback.
“We want to make sure that everybody in the neighborhood is aware of what’s possibly coming down the pike, and also assure that they are comfortable with what might be getting developed in the future, and make sure that they feel like it is a good fit as well for the neighborhood,” Ray said.
The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday. If you want to participate, you can find a videoconference link here.
Krumm says they believe the project can fit well with the existing neighborhood – and even help with things like connectivity. She says this location is the right place to make an effort on housing availability.
“Everybody who owns a single-family home right now is seeing the estimated value of their home increase approximately 27% in the last year, and that’s not sustainable long-term,” she said.
“Somehow we have to provide housing that’s affordable for young families and workers in our community. Because we have existing infrastructure here and we have a neighborhood north and south of us, this vacant land is begging to help answer that question.”