Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) As Missoula County begins searching for a new housing specialist, it may also explore a range of goals in its push to develop affordable housing, with the Wye being one of the top opportunities.

Garrick Harmel, the county’s outgoing housing specialist, crafted a number of recommendations for the county to consider. When he left the job last week, he named land-banking, partnerships and potential incentives as tools the county may consider as it eyes affordable housing.

He also crafted guidelines to help give certain developers a true analysis when considering single-family and multi-family housing projects. The resulting “pro-forma” could help sharpen “half-baked” proposals and, he hopes, open new doors.

“As a lot more people are going to want to try helping with the housing issue, you’re going to have varying degrees of sophistication come in,” Harmel said. “This will help them reevaluate their assumptions. It’s a starting point, but it will be a more effective analysis to go through.”

Harmel said interest in developing the Wye is high. While the area lacks infrastructure, the county has already identified it as a logical place to grow. Current estimates suggest the area could accommodate up to 15,000 new homes in the coming decades, along with the commercial growth that comes with it.

Banking land could play a role in ensuring some of that housing is affordable. The city has deployed the strategy with success in recent years, with the Scott Street project being the most recent. The city has partnered with Ravara to develop roughly 70 homes on city-owned property set aside in a land trust to ensure half of the homes are income restricted.

The city used the approach to help close gaps between the true cost of construction and the end goal of listing the homes at an affordable price. Harmel believes the county can explore a similar approach.

“There’s always going to be gaps,” he said. “We can figure out what our role is in filing those gaps and what strategy we might be willing to take.”

The county has purchased land in the past for other projects, including the Larchmont Golf Course and the development park near the airport. It has also created a number of Targeted Economic Development Districts that generate tax increment, which in turn could help leverage affordable housing.

“Any initiative or program the county supports, there’s different ways we can support or incentivize it,” Harmel said. “Maybe it’s just to start the conversation or bring people together, and the process goes from there. All those different things are really good. There’s going to be a lot to do. Those are the avenues to attack housing on different fronts.”

Finding a suitable replacement for Harmel as he leaves the job will also be key, according to Andrew Hegemeier, a senior county planner. He said the planning department has already reworked the job description and is now waiting for approval before searching for a new housing specialist.

“The language is more directed to someone who can develop, manage and implement programs and policies,” Hegemeier said of the new job. “Clearly, that’s going to be something that’s necessary. The other huge component is focused on relationship building.”

Understanding the role financing plays in any housing project is also a key part of the new job, he added.

“If we’re talking about finding money, we’re going to be talking about financing,” he said. “Understanding how developers finance projects within that affordable housing realm is important. It’s a unique skill set, so hopefully we can find someone with those skills.”

The $1M Missoula Home with "0 Bedrooms"

A property for sale in Missoula is getting a lot of attention for an unusual headline that appeared in the Missoulian: "0 Bedroom Home in Missoula - $1,000,000."

Gallery Credit: Ashley

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