City grants Homeword $75K in EPA funds to prepare polluted site for “little houses”

Homeword acquired a non-conforming lot from the Missoula Food Bank on Catlin and Wyoming streets, where it’s now looking to place six of the 10 homes after clean up work is done.

The Missoula City Council on Wednesday directed $75,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection agency to help Homeword rid a small urban property of petroleum contaminants before placing six homes on the site as affordable housing.

The funding, part of the Brownfields initiative, will enable Homeword to remove 3,300 cubic yards of soil and replace it with clean dirt. The work is expected to take place this spring, with placement of the homes expected by summer.

“It’s a straightforward cleanup,” said city grants administrator John Adams. “There are some petroleum, arsenic and copper problems, all located at the surface of the soil. It’s the exact type of project we have the Brownfields for.”

Back in 2016, Homeword acquired 10 “little houses” and has been storing them on city property ever since. Once destined for the Bakken, the homes were initially purchased by an investment company and delivered to Sidney to accommodate workers in the oil field.

But when the oil boom slowed, the need for housing went with it and the investment company sought an organization that could use the homes as affordable housing. The Bozeman branch of the Human Resource Development Council bought 50 of them, and 10 of those were purchased by Homeword.

Along the way, Homeword also acquired a non-conforming lot from the Missoula Food Bank on Catlin and Wyoming streets, where it’s now looking to place six of the 10 homes. The site was formerly owned by an auto repair shop and needs environmental remediation, just as the Food Bank did before it built its new pantry last year.

Heather McMilin, the housing development director for Homeword, said the challenging site has emerged as the organization’s latest project as it looks for unique solutions to affordable housing.

“It’s been a special little project of ours.” McMilin said. “These Brownfields funds for cleanup are significant for us. If we were paying them and had to recoup that in the sale of homes, it would add over $12,000 a unit per house. To get to a price point for affordability, this is really helpful.”

At least five of the homes, which include two bedrooms and 550 square feet, will be targeted to those earning 80 percent of the area median income. For one person in Missoula, that’s $37,000 a year and for two people, it’s $42,000.

Andrea Davis, executive director of Homeword, has said the organization is aiming for a price point of between $80,000 and $100,000. The units will likely be deed restricted to ensure they’re not flipped back onto the market.