DEER LODGE — Deer Lodge families will soon have 21 new affordable and sustainable housing units ready for occupancy. The need for affordable housing in the city has been a primary concern for many years, and on Friday, Sept. 6, a groundbreaking event was held for the 21-unit Cottonwood Creek Villas development.
The project is one of several around Montana developed by Gene Leuwer of GL Development and his associate Beki Brandborg of Helena. The complex will be constructed on a triangle of five lots in Warren Acres between Buckskin Drive, Tumbleweed and Prairie Lanes. There will be 10 one-bedroom, nine two-bedroom and two three-bedroom units.
“The project was proposed in 2016 but the process is long and on average such a development takes four years from conception and finding the land to completion. It is an aggressive schedule, but the plan is to have the project complete by July 2020,” Brandborg said.
Funding for the $4.32 million came from two Montana Department of Commerce awards: the Board of Housing with a Low Income Housing Tax Credit award of $3.9 million, and a HOME Program grant of $173,270 through the city of Deer Lodge, in addition to private debt by Glacier Bank for both a construction loan and permanent financing. No city taxpayer dollars are being used.
Patrick Sheehan of the Department of Commerce Community Development Division said he had previously worked at Montana State Prison and was familiar with the housing shortage in Deer Lodge that requires many of the staff to commute from outlying communities.
The 2018 appropriations bill passed by Congress and signed by the president included an increase in housing credit authority of 12.5%. This increase allowed Montana Housing the ability to fund one additional project that previously applied for the 2018 housing credits. The Cottonwood Creek Villas project was selected.
Brandborg said that state housing finance agencies, like Montana Housing, award housing credits to developers who turn the credits into construction funds by selling them to investors. These credits allow developers to borrow less money and pass the savings along to qualified tenants through lower rent. Rent for Cottonwood Creek Villas will depend on a person’s or household income, but is not Section 8 subsidized housing. (See breakout).
The apartments were designed by Bjerke Architects and the general contractor is Golden Eagle Construction, both based in Helena. Local subcontractors will be used whenever possible.
Adam Senechal, owner of Golden Eagle Construction, said he plans to begin excavation on Sept. 16 with the goal of having the concrete poured and units enclosed before bad weather so they can work inside during the winter.
Mayor Caleb Burton said when the city adopted a growth policy affordable and workplace housing was at the top of the list. He said the city has pushed hard with the growth policy to move ahead. The city is providing a fire hydrant and installation, worth approximately $10,000, as part of its in-kind match of equipment and labor.
Leuwer said “a whole lot of people have been helpful in moving this along. Sherm Anderson who sold him the land, Mayors Zane Cozby and Caleb Burton, the city council, and City Manager Brian Bender who worked to obtain the grant funding.”
“After Beki introduced the project, Zane (Mayor Cozby) did a lot of work. He showed Gene city properties available for development and went to the Montana Housing Board in Helena with Mike Blakeley to present testimony on the need for this project. Andrew Chanania, of AC Solutions LLC, an advisor to GL Developments worked with the city to get the grants and resolutions in support of the project,’’ Burton said
“This project would not have happened without Brian (Bender) who wrote the grant applications and resolutions. In the past there was not someone with the technical knowledge to do the grant writing and to shepherd it through the process. People don’t realize what a big asset Brian is to the community,” Burton added.
Bender responded, “This is a great project that the community needs. Deer Lodge is alive and wants to grow. I don’t remember the last time we had a $4 million project. It is a demonstration of team work and a new philosophy of city officials. We have developed a great rapport with Gene and Beki. Beki has a connection to Deer Lodge from when her great aunt was a teacher and lived in a house near the high school.”