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Helena considers creating affordable housing trust fund

Posted at 10:27 AM, Aug 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-20 12:27:52-04

Helena city leaders are considering creating a new trust fund to support affordable housing development.

At an administrative meeting Wednesday, the Helena City Commission held an initial discussion on the possibility of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, designed to provide a stable source of funding to address housing needs in the community. Commissioners came to a consensus to take a closer look at the idea.

Commissioner Andres Haladay has advocated for a trust fund, calling it one of the most effective tools for supporting affordable housing projects at the local level.

“I appreciate my fellow Commissioners' commitment to finding solutions to Helena's affordable and workforce housing needs,” he said.

The money for the fund could come from a variety of sources. Haladay’s initial draft proposed at least $100,000 a year from the city general fund, along with tax increment financing funds from the city’s urban renewal districts, federal housing funds and money from partnerships with the private sector.

The fund could provide assistance for building new housing, preserving existing housing, creating infrastructure to support housing projects, and other costs linked to housing development. City staff said it could also be used to help leverage other investments.

Sharon Haugen, Helena’s community development director, said they will now start working on the details of what the fund could look like.

“Those things would tell us how the money can be used, who would qualify for the funds, what would be the process and the procedure for granting those funds,” she said.

Haugen said they plan to work with housing organizations and developers as they put together a framework for the fund.

City leaders have repeatedly identified affordable housing as one of Helena’s biggest needs. Staff reported the median home price in the city rose from $190,000 in 2012 to $269,000 in 2019. Haugen noted that, during the ongoing Cruse Avenue visioning project, many public comments have called for housing development in that area.

The commission has already taken some steps to try to address the housing issue. They added flexibility to city zoning rules and began waiving some building fees for affordable housing projects. Leaders said a trust fund would go along with those efforts.

“It would be another tool in that toolbox,” said Haugen.

Missoula approved the creation of this type of trust fund earlier this year. Haugen said Helena staff will look at that program to see what they can learn.