Written by Devon Boen
Jonathan Reed and Associates and several county and city officials made a trip to Helena this past week to present the 24-unit tax credit housing project to the Montana Board of Housing for consideration.
The project was brought to the city by Jonathan Reed and Associates of Colorado Springs, Colo. JRA is a development firm that has proposed and created over 17 housing projects in different towns and cities across America.
JRA proposed the creation of a 24-unit apartment complex with a mixture of one, two, and three bedroom apartments. Reed emphasized how the complex would have multiple amenities including a tot lot, a gazebo and barbecue area, a basketball court and a computer center in the leasing office, among others.
To many community members and county and city officials, it seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for a town that has seen so little housing development and has been unable to keep up with the growth of the oil field in the area. But, simply accepting Reed’s proposal and annexing in the 2.88 acres of land north of Trinity Hospital where the project would sit isn’t enough. Wolf Point has to be selected.
The project is funded by four sources: a private bank loan, a contribution from the developer, and two federal grants. Wolf Point and JRA aren’t the only ones vying for the federal funds. Thirteen other communities in Montana including Sidney, Glendive and Poplar are hoping to be chosen by the Montana Board of Housing.
The hearing on March 18 gave each community the opportunity to present its plan to the board and have community members speak on the local project’s behalf.
Reed said Wolf Point was an ideal candidate for the project — even over the communities sitting right in the heart of the Bakken. When asked why, Reed explained that communities like Sidney and Glendive have had to rapidly expand in order to accommodate the infiltration of oil workers and families, but that they have the necessary land.
He said Wolf Point didn’t have that luxury because the town was mostly land-locked, meaning most land was already privately owned or tribally owned. Because of that, Wolf Point has had a harder time developing and keeping up with the demands of the growing population and the need to bring in employees from out of town.
In fact, he said Wolf Point had the most dire housing need he had seen in all his years as a developer on 17 housing projects. It may sound hyperbolic, but Reed backed up his claim, explaining how no real housing projects have been built in the area since around 1980. Reed thought it was time to break the three-
And he’s not the only one. Wolf Point Mayor Dewayne Jager, public works director Rick Isle, county commissioners Gary Macdonald and Jim Shanks, community member and former business owner Pat Will and GNDC representatives (via webinar) all made the trip to Helena to show support for the project.
Reed said Wolf Point had the most local supporters attending the hearing and that it was indicative of the over-arching community support he’s seen since the project was proposed last fall.
Reed said the board listened to the proposals and awarded points for various categories. He said some of the elements that influenced the board’s decision were the level of need for housing demonstrated in a market study, the amount of amenities and features of the proposed project, the amount of dedication given to being green and sustainable, affordability and the complex’s proximity to schools, churches, pharmacies, parks, etc.
Reed said Wolf Point demonstrated a great need for housing in the market study, trumping communities like Sidney and Glendive. He said the study revealed 31.5 percent of the housing in Roosevelt County was dilapidated.
As for amenities, Reed said they are plentiful and that Wolf Point scored well in the category. He also said the proposal’s dedication to being green paid off and the board took notice. In a city council meeting, Reed said the complex would strive to be up to Silver standards under the LEED rating system.
The question of affordability was a big topic of discussion at council meetings. People wanted to know if this was a low-income housing project. Reed firmly stated it was not. He said it was aimed at a lower, middle income demographic and required a slew of background and financial checks for potential applicants.
It may not be aimed at low-income residents, but relative to the housing board’s requirements, the rent rates achieved the top score. Reed said the complex would have an actual mortgage, so the bills had to be paid and paid on time, but that rent rates were as low as they could be relative to the cost.
Former business owner and current rental owner Pat Will has been an advocate of the housing plan since the beginning. The longtime Wolf Point resident said she loves the community, but has seen little development.
Will said she gets an average of two calls a day asking about rental vacancies and that number spikes to about six or seven calls a day toward the end of the month.
Will couldn’t explain why development was at a standstill. She spoke to the board at the hearing and told them how badly she thought Wolf Point needed the opportunity. Will emphasized how important it was to have housing for new nurses, doctors, teachers and other indispensable employees. She has witnessed the city, county and schools all turn away excellent applicants because of the housing shortage. Will said she believed the project could spur further development.
“Anytime you have growth, you have more growth,” Will said.
Wolf Point Mayor Dewayne Jager similarly supported the project and believed it was a crucial step in housing development for the area.
Jager said there was a dire need for housing and saw little wrong with the proposed development. But he did admit the project would act as a beginning step in rectifying the housing crisis, not a cure-all.
“This is a start,” Jager said.
The project’s 24 units might not be enough to fix the housing problem, but Jager said JRA could continue to grow the development north of the hospital after the initial plans were completed. Growth is possible because JRA will purchase over 100 acres of land if Wolf Point is chosen by the board. The city has conditionally annexed in 2.88 acres of that land for the 24 units and the rest could be used for further development.
Public works director Rick Isle agreed that there was a serious need for housing and liked the project because it would cost significantly less than other housing might.
In terms of logistics, he said Wolf Point can handle the water, sewer, and garbage needs of the project with little issue.
Now, the decision is left to the Montana Board of housing. The board will evaluate each proposal and use market studies and research to determine which community is awarded the federal funds. The community will be chosen in late April and will receive the funds in multiple installments in conjunction with project milestones.