Infill and affordability

In an effort to beef up local affordable housing, the Missoula City Council is hammering out an ordinance that would open the door to infill development in a handful of residential areas.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Councilman Bob Jaffe in July, would enable developers in neighborhoods that now allow multi-family housing—largely the Northside, Franklin to the Fort, and areas west of Russell Street—to squeeze in extra homes.

"What I was after with this thing was to start the process of creating tools—essentially tools in the tool box of planning and zoning—that encourage affordable development," Jaffe says.

Developers would receive a density bonus in exchange for committing a portion—at least one of three newly constructed residences—toward low-income housing. For instance, rather than erecting three homes on a 4,500 square foot property, as the current mandate requires in some neighborhoods, developers would be allowed to build on a 4,050 square foot parcel.

The resulting affordable homes would then be sold to individuals and families who earn less than 80 percent of area median income. For a family of four, that equals $49,100. Those houses would remain affordable in perpetuity, with that condition recorded in the deed.

Developers could sell the affordable home themselves or work in conjunction with a nonprofit organization like the Missoula Housing Authority.

A cross section of interests support the ordinance, including the Missoula Building Industry Association, the Missoula Organization of Realtors and the Missoula Housing Authority. Supporters say this new model, which merges pubic and private interests, forges a partnership that's essential to meeting Missoula's affordable housing needs.

"I think you'll see a lot more public-private partnerships," says Missoula Housing Authority Executive Director Lori Davidson.

Not everyone is sold, though. During City Council's Monday night meeting, Rene Mitchell expressed concern that the ordinance would create too much density in already crowded neighborhoods, exacerbating concerns about increased traffic and available parking.

"I'm so skeptical of going anywhere close to this stuff," Mitchell said. "We need to have some more discussion on this."

The council will again debate the ordinance in the coming weeks.

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