While some areas of Montana are still grappling with the issue of having enough affordable housing, Libby has seen some light at the end of the tunnel.
According to a press release, the Cabinet of Affordable Housing was awarded federal tax credits for low-income housing at the Montana Housing Board meeting on Oct. 17.
A $6.5 million tax credit project was awarded to the Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana in October for housing in Libby. It was part of nearly $32 million in tax breaks that will also benefit housing projects in Butte, Great Falls, Crow Agency, and Missoula.
According to the state Department of Commerce, federal housing tax credits allow developers to borrow less money for construction and pass the savings on through lower rent.
In addition, Sheila Rice, chair of the Montana Housing Board, said, “Issuing the state an affordable housing tax credit, as recommended in the governor’s housing task force report this month, would provide an incredible opportunity for the state to support the development of more housing in the future.”
Cassidy Cape of CAPNM, who brought the idea to Libby City Council, said there is a great deal of optimism about the new housing.
“We are so excited,” said Cape. “We really appreciate the Montana Housing Board for hearing and responding to the call of need.”
The plan is for the Council of Ministers for Affordable Housing to build a 24-unit housing project targeting low-income families. Kipp said they will be located on a 4.1-acre parcel of land on Commerce Road, across from Flathead Valley Community College.
There will be 24 units in 12 duplex buildings with a monthly rent ranging from $634 to $920. Upon completion, the project will have 10 two-bedroom units and 14 one-bedroom units.
The project aims to create multi-family units, with income targeted at households below 50% and 60% of the median income in the area.
According to the release, this is the first time that tax credits have been given to family projects in the Libby area, and the only previous Libby area tax credit allocation was given to a senior citizen project in 1999.
Kristen Smith, a Libby City Councilwoman who has championed the project, was thrilled to hear the news.
“I think it’s a win for Libby and our hard-working staff,” said Smith. It must provide opportunities and upward movement in the field of housing.
“As an employer who, historically, has employed a number of single women with children, I know there is a need,” Smith said. “I am so grateful for this partnership. I can’t wait to see it built.”
Supporters say the new development will meet a growing community need while offering rents well below market rate in the area (20% below market rate for two-bedrooms and 25% below market rate for one-bedrooms).
The project is scheduled for construction in the spring of 2023, with an expected construction time of just under one year.
Cape said people have already called in to get on the waiting list, but she said that can’t start until the units are six months from completion.
“Ideally, it would start in March 2023 and finish by the end of next year, but we’re going to need an all-star to make that happen,” said Cape. “We are dependent on supply chain, weather and manpower availability,”
The project is being developed by the American Covenant Senior Housing Corporation and the Northwest Montana Community Action Partnership.
In addition, the Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana will have on-site offices to serve the public, as well as affordable cabinet tenants.
Cape told city council members at a meeting in September 2021 that the project will feature an office and community room where her group can connect both renters and area residents with its services, including homebuyer education and financial skills-building courses.
“We’re building good taxpayers. We’re gaining the skills and skills needed for long-term success and also helping with things like the burden of heating expenses during the winter months,” she said. “It will really be a place where we serve the community in a real, accessible way.”
Three out of the four affordable housing projects in the area are geared towards the elderly. She said housing is needed for younger families, such as single parents and children.
“What we’re seeing is that there is an absolute lack of safe, affordable homes,” Cape said. “We see that tenants are overburdened for what they pay.”
She said about 30 percent of people in the Libby area spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing and utilities costs.
Kep said that US Department of Housing and Urban Development rules state that each bedroom sleeps two people.
“It’s not uncommon to see homes with single rooms and very small spaces,” she said. “What we’re imagining here is a single mother, a child, a single parent, and a child.”
Gerald Fritts of the American Covenant Housing Corporation, which is collaborating with the Community Action Plan on the project, said the proposed development does not prohibit large tenants.
“We have only two types of products that we can put to the Montana Housing Board: It’s either a large facility or a family facility,” he said.
“Although the need for 1-bedroom or 2-bedroom units…it is not a deterrent [seniors] also. It’s a much broader definition of society.”
The application process will be managed by a third party, Idaho-based Infinity Management, Kep said, the same company actually responsible for Treasure Manor.