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Foreclosure's bright side

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Since the Missoula Athletic Club (MAC) defaulted three years ago, the East Broadway property has stood empty. But now, thanks to the foreclosure and crummy economy, a local developer sees an opportunity to convert the three-acre site into affordable housing.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), a new plan under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides emergency assistance to state and local governments to redevelop foreclosed properties—like MAC—that may otherwise decay into urban blight. Congress enacted the legislation as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, a piece of a larger federal legislative effort to kick start the economy.

Rick Wishcamper and Mike Bouchee of Missoula-based Rocky Mountain Development Group hope to tap into $5 million from the program to build a 115-unit, multi-family rental property for low- and moderate-income households on the MAC site. The remainder of the $10.5 million project would come from HUD loans.

Although the city of Missoula is not beholden financially to the project, the Office of Planning and Grants must administer the grant, which requires City Council approval. The council members obliged unanimously at their June 15 meeting.

"It's an important issue for us," Bouchee says. "Missoula has a huge shortage of affordable housing. Certainly, the project we're proposing wouldn't solve the problem, but it would alleviate it a little bit. And anything we can do to help with the creation of more affordable housing in Missoula, we absolutely want to see it through."

The project, however, hinges on whether the developers can secure NSP funds. The program awards money on a first come, first serve basis so it's in the city's—and the developer's—best interest to apply early.

If the funding comes through, Bouchee says construction would begin next winter and continue throughout next year.

"This all sounds good," he says, "but it's contingent on us getting the funds. If our application is not successful, we're kinda back at square one in looking for ways to develop affordable housing."

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