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Helena gathers stakeholders for meeting on housing priorities

Helena Home Construction
Posted at 12:47 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 15:33:35-04

HELENA — As the city of Helena continues its efforts to address housing needs in the community, they’re seeking input from those working directly on the issue.

“We’ve heard a lot from some of our partner organizations that are really struggling, like Good Samaritan, Habitat for Humanity, Rocky Mountain Development Council,” said Kara Snyder, the city’s new housing coordinator.

“For basically all of the programming that they do, they have just extraordinary waitlists right now, and part of the problem is there’s just not a lot of places for people to even get into, so there’s certainly a huge need right now.”

On Thursday, the city organized a virtual stakeholder meeting. About 30 people took part, representing affordable housing providers, builders, support organizations, local government and others.

Those taking part in the meeting said the housing issue isn’t new to Helena, but it’s getting even tougher to deal with. Helena Housing Authority executive director Michael O’Neil said the community probably needs about three times the inventory of affordable housing it currently has.

Jacob Kuntz, executive director of Helena Area Habitat for Humanity, said real estate prices in the area have gone up by almost a quarter in the last year alone – making it more expensive to build new houses and harder to keep existing housing affordable.

During Thursday’s meeting, leaders shared results from a survey of the stakeholders. It identified some of their housing priorities for the next few years:

  • Permanent supportive housing, which includes services for those who were formerly homeless
  • Increased housing options for seniors
  • The creation of a housing trust fund
  • Weatherization and rehabilitation for existing multi-family housing

The meeting also highlighted organizations – including the HHA, Habitat, YWCA Helena, Good Samaritan Ministries and the United Way of Lewis and Clark Area – that have ideas for housing projects that can be implemented immediately if they get funding.

“What we’re hoping today is to find out what those projects are and then ultimately provide that information to the city commission so they have their options of what projects they want to work on,” said Sharon Haugen, Helena’s community development director

Haugen said there may be more opportunities to find funding for this work in 2021, because of COVID-19 relief packages and the city’s creation of a housing trust fund.

The city is already working on one large-scale partnership, with Habitat, YWCA, Rocky Mountain Development Council and Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church.

The proposal would be to set some of the land next to the church aside into a trust. The organizations would then place a variety of different types of affordable housing there, with the city providing infrastructure.

The Helena City Commission is expected to identify priority affordable housing projects this summer.