In a move that quells a months-old controversy, the Missoula Housing Authority (MHA) voted Nov. 21 to bring the nonprofit Garden City Neighbors under its wing. MHA commissioners unanimously approved making Garden City Neighbors a subsidiary organization of MHA, clarifying the once-fuzzy connection between the two low-income housing organizations.
“We realized they’re so intertwined that the health of one depends on the other, so we decided to just make it a supporting organization and move forward,” says Lori Davidson, the acting director of MHA since Peter Hance resigned the post in June.
The relationship between Garden City Neighbors and MHA was at the center of a storm of criticism MHA commissioners and others, including Mayor John Engen, directed at Hance, who was then executive director of MHA and on Garden City Neighbors’ board of directors. Although MHA financed Garden City Neighbors and partnered with it to advance MHA housing projects, Hance used the organization to help a Lewistown development that was directly competing with MHA for state funding. Hance also maintained that Garden City Neighbors wasn’t subject to oversight by the public or MHA, and that its meetings and records were private. Backed up by City Attorney Jim Nugent, Engen repeatedly urged Hance and MHA commissioners to open Garden City Neighbors’ files for review.
Davidson acknowledges the political rationale behind merging MHA and Garden City Neighbors, but also says auditors recommended the move because it makes financial sense. Since its 2002 inception, Garden City Neighbors has received several loans from MHA to develop housing projects. Now the MHA will exercise control over its finances and appoint its board of directors. Davidson will stay on as one of three Garden City Neighbors directors, and the other two directors—Hance and Jim Morton of the Human Resource Council—say they’ll resign so MHA commissioners can make fresh appointments.
Engen applauded the move: “I’m glad the [Missoula Housing] Authority is moving ahead and reorganizing in some important ways,” he says. “I suspect that will help them move their mission forward.”