Helena Area Habitat for Humanity aims to build at least 1,000 new homes in East Helena

Posted at 5:52 PM, Aug 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-10 12:10:13-04

HELENA — Habitat for Humanity is looking to bring hundreds of homes to the East Helena area in the coming years, allowing more families the ability to own a home.

“This project is larger in scope and scale than most anything I've seen in the nation,” says Executive Director of Helena Area Habitat for Humanity, Jacob Kuntz.

A work in progress for the past three years, about 243 acres will soon be in the hands of Habitat for Humanity. The land, which was declared a cleanup site in 1984 by the EPA due to the smelting site, was recently decided safe for development.

The land is situated just south of Highway 287 where the East Helena Rodeo Grounds currently stands and on nearby properties.

Habitat for Humanity estimates that they can create at least 1,000 new mixed-income homes on this land, complete with green spaces, parks, and trails leading to an in-progress park development down near Prickly Pear Creek. At least 600-700 of these homes will be created to remain affordable for generations to come.

This is a massive undertaking for the nonprofit. Kuntz says he is unfamiliar with many other Habitat for Humanity projects of this scale.

“So, there's 1200 Habitat affiliates working in 50 states. Very few of them have ever stepped into land development and designing neighborhoods. Our board of directors, looking at the desperate need in Montana several years ago, set the vision of the organization to be building at least 30 homes every year by 2030. And so, that's part of this vision,” he said.

Kuntz explains that this development is desperately needed for hard-working Montanans.

“The average price of a home in Helena and Helena area is $465,000, and that requires a household income of at least $130,000 to be able to afford the mortgage. That's over $3000 a month. And I don't know who is affording that, but it's not the working people of Helena that occupy our schools, and our police departments, the fire stations, who run the businesses and make things happen here," noted Kuntz.

With the rising cost of housing, many Montanans are feeling like home ownership is slipping away and becoming more unobtainable.

"It's incumbent upon us as an organization that builds housing to do everything we can with the assets and with the knowledge base and with the people that, you know, are gathered around us to put all those assets to work to solving the problem rather than just serving one family at a time,” said Kuntz.

The project timeline is still estimated. But, as of now, they hope to break ground within the next 18 months and be completed with the project within 15-20 years.