HELENA — Last year, several Helena-area nonprofit organizations began talking about a plan to work together for a major affordable housing partnership. With the ongoing need for affordable housing still a major topic of discussion in the community, MTN followed up to see how that project is developing.
Right now, there aren’t many obvious changes on several acres of open land currently owned by Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church, on Helena’s north end. However, leaders involved with the effort to bring new housing to the site say there is movement behind the scenes.
“It feels like a long time, but in the last 12 months, we've actually made a lot of progress,” said Liz Mogstad, director of affordable housing for Rocky Mountain Development Council.
Rocky is serving as the main grantee for the initial stages of the process. The plan is for them to partner with YWCA Helena and Helena Area Habitat for Humanity to provide different types of housing, each aimed at a different group in the community.
Mogstad said they know people are anxious for action on the housing front.
“I definitely feel like the push is more and the need is greater right now than it probably has been in the last 13 years I've been working here,” she said. “Our waiting lists for other sites are at least two years long for the most part. I think Red Alder, our family property, is five years long.”
Leaders have been working with Mosaic Architecture and SMA Architecture + Design on preliminary site plans. Though they’re still subject to change, the early plans call for more than 100 housing units on the property. YWCA would provide short-term transitional housing, Rocky would build apartments for rent, and Habitat would have room to build houses for its family buyers.
“Theoretically, you could do all those phases of housing and never have to leave your neighborhood, which is kind of a unique opportunity for people,” Mogstad said.
Mogstad said Rocky is currently looking at putting about 60 apartments at the Our Redeemer’s site. That would be slightly fewer than the 85 they placed in the recently completed Red Alder development.
“I would love to do exactly like that, but we'll have to be a little more dense,” said Mogstad. “We don't have quite as much room, and we'll probably have two-story buildings just for the sake of being able to fit everything.”
Funding remains a key step for the project. The city of Helena provided $1.58 million through a community aid grant. Mogstad said, with that, they have put together enough money to divide this lot from the church property, purchase the land and complete the subdivision process through the city – which could take a year. She said the next hurdle will be raising enough to complete Horseshoe Bend Road between Green Meadow Drive and Benton Avenue, which will serve as the main access for the development.
Mogstad said they started this project with a five-year timeline in mind. She said how fast it goes from here will depend on how quickly they can get the needed funding.
“These just take a really long time – and this one in particular is more complicated because the more partners you add, the more complicated it gets,” she said. “But it's also hopefully building a path towards what other communities can emulate.”
Once the land is subdivided, Mogstad said YWCA, Rocky and Habitat will each be relying primarily on their own individual funding sources to develop the housing units.