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The price is right

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Missoula Housing Authority Executive Director Lori Davidson already has big plans for the three properties that, if all goes as planned, the city of Missoula will donate to MHA next week.

MHA administers a variety of programs that help low-income people find housing. Its waiting list runs roughly 2,000 families long.

The city's donation will chip away at that demand. It's early yet, but Davidson envisions the three parcels—all of them located south of Broadway near the River Trail—could accommodate roughly 14 housing units.

"It is exciting," Davidson says.

She hopes to draw upon a long-time MHA goal: to have College of Technology carpentry and heavy equipment program students build housing on one of the donated properties. "We've been looking for a project to work with COT for many years," she says.

In 2009, the Montana Legislature passed a law that enables cities to directly donate land to nonprofit organizations that use it for affordable housing. If the gift is approved by council during its regularly scheduled meeting Feb. 27, it will mark the first time Missoula conducts a transaction under the new law.

Council has hashed out how best to use the properties for nearly a year.

Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken, who chairs the Administration and Finance Committee that originally deliberated the donations, says city department heads were given first dibs on the land. There were no takers.

City staffers also asked other area nonprofits if they were interested in using the land for low-income housing. They didn't bite, either, Wolken says. "Everybody had a chance to participate."

The city doesn't have recent appraisals for the properties. Wolken says that's because lawmakers didn't see the point in hiring someone to calculate the worth of the three "awkward parcels" slated for donation. Other than the the donation value itself, the city isn't incurring any costs. (MHA will pay the title search bill, estimated at $1,000.)

Wolken says when the issue was deliberated in committee, council members agreed that it makes more sense to donate the properties than to continue paying for their upkeep. "We all agree that this is the most fiscally responsible—to dispose of this property," she says.

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