Missoulian: Missoula to receive $1.3 million more in federal affordable housing funding

by Jordan Hansen

More affordable housing funding is in Missoula’s future, as the city is set to receive federal money.

Sen. Jon Tester’s office announced on Thursday that the city of Missoula will receive $1,323,209 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. The money will come through Housing and Urban Development’s HOME Investment Partnership Program.

Missoula annually receives federal HOME funds, which are then distributed by the city to organizations to use them for affordable housing projects and rental assistance to low-income residents. Montana James, the city’s deputy director of Housing and Community Development, said the full parameters of the federal money are unknown.

The city is hopeful the stipulations regarding the additional HOME funds will be more broad than the annual HOME funds, which have strict requirements on how they can be used.

“There’s been conversation that they should be focused on benefiting individuals or households that are at risk of homelessness or experiencing homelessness, populations that need supportive services and are facing housing instability,” James said Thursday. “We’re eager to learn more and just see what additional guidance we get from HUD on those funds and how we can use them in the community.”

While more guidance is needed, James said the additional HOME funds will likely go through their own application process before being distributed. This could include community input and feedback on needs and priorities.

The process for distributing annual HOME funds begins in January, when Missoula starts receiving applications for the money. In mid-March, the city had around $630,000 in federal HOME funds, approximately $360,000 of which had been applied for.

“We know that we have really big and broad housing needs in the community, especially for folks that are at lower incomes in terms of the community income level,” James said. “So now we’re excited to kind of brainstorm and figure out how we might use things and apply them.”

Importantly, Montana receives the annual HOME funds in addition to the $1.3 million directly for the city because it is considered what is known as a metropolitan statistical area. Great Falls, Missoula and Billings are the only metropolitan statistical areas in Montana, which are designated by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

In late January, a Trump-era proposal sought to change what constitutes a metropolitan statistical area, changing it from a population of 50,000 people to 100,000 people.

While this will not impact the extra $1.3 million Missoula will get, it represents money the city would not get in the future if the proposal goes into effect. Funding changes for a variety of federal programs based on whether a city has the metropolitan area designation.

If Missoula did not have the metropolitan statistical area designation, it would have likely received less money. Sen. Tester and Sen. Steve Daines each have voiced opposition against the proposed changes to what population designates a city as a metropolitan statistical area.

The release said the state received $11,459,768 to distribute across other places in Montana. Meanwhile, $1,211,321 in HOME funding will go directly to Billings, and $1,026,477 will go to Great Falls, which does not come out of the $11.4 million the state has to spread around.

“Montana is staring down the barrel of an affordable housing crisis, and because of this pandemic, more and more families are struggling to pay the bills,” Tester said in a news release. “I’m proud to have worked with Montanans to secure this critical funding through the American Rescue Plan, because it’s going to help folks in Missoula keep a roof over their heads while we get our economy back on track.”