Could we turn our parking lot into affordable housing?
The vestry agreed at its April 13 meeting that the possibility of converting our church parking lot into affordable housing is a worthwhile question for the parish to explore, but there are many questions to be answered before we can move forward. A small committee has spent several months carefully exploring the concept. We talked to city planners, builders, architects and specialists in affordable housing. Our conclusion was that yes, it’s possible, but will require much discussion, planning, investigation and compromise.
The first question may be Why? We all know how home affordability has become a huge problem in Missoula, both for prospective owners and renters. Prices have risen so dramatically that many people cannot afford to live here anymore. Missoula could become a very different place, and not a healthy place to live, if renters and entry-level homeowners are squeezed out. Seniors and lower-income residents are those most likely to be negatively affected. Housing is not only a human right that most of us are privileged to have, it is essential to people’s health and well-being.
But why should Holy Spirit take on this challenge? The answer, I believe, lies in our vision as an Episcopal church, our mission and our history of leadership in Missoula. Our vision as stated on our website is to “cultivate, challenge and live our faith in Christ through commitment to each other and the world.” Part of our mission is to “follow the example of Jesus as we serve those in need,” and to “work to nurture a welcoming, loving community that recognizes and values all of God’s people.” Those principles guide us to the possibility that we can house those in need, as well as care for the health of our community. To do so effectively, we need to exercise leadership, just as generations of Holy Spirit parishioners in the past have done by envisioning a path forward and working assiduously and collaboratively toward that goal.
How we can use our parking lot for affordable housing is a more complex question, to be worked out by a committee now being formed, along with input we will be seeking from the entire parish. Our exploration committee (David and Nancy Tyrell, Dave Strohmaier and myself, with the assistance of Andrea Davis, executive director of Homeword) did discern a viable pathway, possibly resulting in a building with the following characteristics: a three-story building with ground-floor parking and two levels of apartments, 20-24 in total, deed-dedicated to lower-income seniors, plus a certain amount of office space. Such a building might cost about $4 million, to be financed through a combination of marketed tax credits, grants and donations, with little or no cash outlay and no long-term debt for the church. The key to making this possible is the market value of the parking lot land (yet to be appraised) that our parish has owned for the past 48 years.
There may well be alternative visions for constructing affordable housing on the parking lot land. Regardless, there are many questions to be answered, such as: How do we maximize the number of parking spaces available for Holy Spirit Parish? What kind of re-zoning do we need? What type of housing need can we best address? With whom can we partner most effectively for financing and construction? What are the best sources of financing? How do we design a building compatible with the neighborhood? Who will manage and maintain the building? How do we make sure the building reflects our respect and care for the environment?
As we begin our exploration, we will look for ways to engage the whole parish through communications, forums and other means of participation and open discussion so that everyone can be heard and all questions can be addressed.
If we are able to answer these questions satisfactorily, we will be able to make a real difference in our town, helping to resolve an issue of almost existential magnitude, helping to preserve the community we love, and acting as a Christian community committed to each other and the world.
--CLEM WORK, Senior Warden
Update on Affordable Housing Work: Housing Committee Reaches out to Senior Center and MCPS
The Holy Spirit committee considering how we could support affordable housing in Missoula continued to look at possibilities this summer, including some early outreach to the Missoula Senior Center and Missoula County Public Schools.
With the Missoula Senior Center, we reached out to ask if they would consider adding affordable housing to their property, and offered our assistance in helping them achieve such a project. The Senior Center's board meeting in june determined a next step would be a conversation with their full membership. We hope to know more soon about whether the Senior Center will be interested in meeting with us to discuss more specific possibilities.
With the Missoula County Public Schools, our committee has had two meetings – first, with Acting Superintendent Russ Lodge (set via parishioner Jim Clark, who is a former MCPS superintendent), and subsequently with the MCPS Facility Use Committee. The school district is motivated by housing for entry-level teachers and is open to thinking about a joint project.
It's possible that a housing project utilizing both of our properties could deliver a larger parking area – to be determined. An important next step would be developing a pro forma to identify whether a potential housing project would be doable and affordable, while delivering both needed housing and desired parking for our church and the hellgate campus. We are meeting with the MCPS committee again later in August to further discuss initial interest and ideas.
This summer our committee also welcomed Gary Swartz as a new member. As usual, please send us your feedback and ideas by reaching out to Clem Work, . Or contact any member of this committee, including Molly Bowler, Lance Collister, John Crowley, Dick Dailey, Jesse Jaeger, Dave Strohmaier, Gary Swartz, and David and Nancy Tyrell.
Feedback: Next Steps for Affordable Housing Ideas
The group exploring how Holy Spirit could support affordable housing in Missoula met in early June. We reviewed feedback from the parish – provided during and after the May 22 meeting – on the initial idea to rethink our parking lot as both affordable housing for seniors and parking for the church.
- The need to prioritize parking for the congregation
- Requests to consider a wide range of ways Holy Spirit could support affordable housing apart from/in addition to a parking lot project
- Skepticism about how a project might work and interest in more information on viability
- A desire to understand ongoing demand in Missoula for affordable housing units and how affordable housing works
- Appreciation for this area of need and how it meshes with our mission to help others and the baptismal covenant that connects us.
Clearly, any eventual project would require broad support from the people of Holy Spirit. Exploring affordable housing will need a lot of spade work, relationship-building and ongoing communication with each other across our church community and our neighbors. Also important is a willingness to follow facts, consider feedback and let go of ideas if they prove unworkable, or to work toward consensus if an idea has merit.
In response to your feedback, the committee is moving ahead in these ways:
- Inviting individuals with a variety of viewpoints to be part of this work
- Identifying ways Holy Spirit could support existing housing efforts in the Missoula community
- Reaching out to other community assets, such as the Missoula Senior Center, to explore how Holy Spirit could help them bring forward a new combination of uses that includes housing, possibly in collaboration with other nearby churches.
- Further defining the potential size and scope of a housing/parking development on the church’s parking lot to determine whether it could work and whether it is desired
- Exploring whether a larger project would be more attractive and useful
- Seek possible collaboration with Missoula County Public Schools and Hellgate High School to address mutual parking needs while integrating housing
- Look for possible shared interests in such a project among property owners of businesses to the west, along both Sixth Street and Higgins Avenue
- Developing a survey of Holy Spirit parishioners about their parking use and needs, as well as interest in future senior housing for themselves
- Looking into other possibilities for parking adjacent to Holy Spirit
- Encouraging feedback and involvement from Holy Spirit parishioners as we collect and share information
Send us your feedback and ideas by reaching out to Clem Work, . Or contact any member of this committee, including Molly Bowler, Lance Collister, John Crowley, Dick Dailey, Jesse Jaeger, Dave Strohmaier, and David and Nancy Tyrell.
A roof over one’s head is a pretty basic necessity, isn’t it?
But for a growing number of Missoulians, that roof is in peril. The average cost of a home is $305,000, up more than 40 percent in a decade. Not only are more people priced out of home ownership, but the share of Missoulians who rent, already at 50 percent, will continue to grow. Nearly half of these renters are spending more than 30 percent of their take-home pay on housing—the current standard for affordable housing. Unaffordable rents lead to too little of everything else because, as sociologist Matt Desmond put it, “The rent eats first.” When people have a safe and affordable place to live, many other problems (such as unemployment, ill health, and lack of food) are lessened. Our parish's current advocacy effort focuses on affordable housing for low-income renters in Missoula, where there is a great need to reform the system and make housing more accessible.
- Clem Work
Read about a key book on housing: Evicted, by Matthew Desmond:
Read stories about Housing in Missoula collected by members of the Advocacy for Housing Subcommittee: