On the monthly City Talk segment on the KGVO Radio Talk Back show the guests were Eran Pehan, Director of the newly formed Department of Planning, Development and Innovation, and Ginny Merriam, Communications Director for the City of Missoula.

Pehan described the scope and mission of the new agency.

“Our new department of community planning, development and innovation really strives to promote equitable growth across the community, while creating a resilient and sustainable community,” said Pehan. “We do that through creating programs, policies and planning that really focus on identifying those smart solutions to the ever growing complex problems facing our community, and then through the application, land use code and the delivery of development services.”

Pehan said there are special city programs to help first time buyers get into their first homes.

“We tackle that through a couple of different programs,” she said. “One of those is down payment assistance. The city currently has a program by which we can loan up to $35,000 for down payment assistance for qualifying households, and that helps you get into the market. It helps you build equity in that home and after a period of time that loan is forgiven, which means you get to maintain that equity in your home.”

Since Missoula is low on space for new homes, KGVO asked if city officials would be willing to sacrifice some city park space for new affordable housing.

“There are a lot of parks and in neighborhoods across the community that aren't meeting our needs, such as small pocket parks, that might be better served as infill housing, again, the type of housing that uses the infrastructure we already have today,” she said. “That is the most fiscally responsible type of housing to build, and then our goal would be to create larger parks that better serve those neighborhoods.”

Pehan said as time goes by, developers will learn to trust the new city department to help build housing and subdivisions that will benefit everyone.

“Developers are eager to partner with us to define those process improvements to figure out how we can work more collaboratively and how we can work together,” she said. “Ultimately, we should be working in partnership. It shouldn't be a developer versus the city of Missoula, and so I think we have to find that path and we have to create that partnership and those trusting relationships. “I think many of those exist today, but I think we also have some work to do there.”

Contact the Department of Planning, Development and Innovation here.