The Villagio Apartments are located in Missoula's northside neighborhood on the north end of Scott Street. The units will be available to individuals or households making at or below 60% of area median income. Credit: Cameron Evans / MTFP

As home prices and rents continue to rise in Missoula, the Missoula Housing Authority is taking names of people interested in moving into the Trinity and Villagio apartments, billed by officials as the two largest affordable housing projects in Montana history. 

The Trinity and Villagio apartment complexes currently under construction will each provide about 200 units of affordable housing in Missoula for residents deemed eligible based on their income. 

Adding your name does not guarantee a home in the complexes, but the Missoula Housing Authority, a public housing agency that acts as a property manager for many affordable units in the area, will contact people on the list when leasing begins. 

Currently, all other affordable housing properties overseen by MHA have waiting lists, and the Trinity and Villagio apartment complexes will offer an influx of sorely needed affordable housing in Missoula.

“It was exciting when we began these projects and, as they’ve been under development, we’ve seen the Missoula market become, frankly, crazy, and these units are critical,” said Jim McGrath, director of Housing and Urban Development programs for MHA. “They’re fulfilling a huge need right now.”

“We probably need one Villagio each year for some time to address that need,” he added.

For many, it may be confusing to know who qualifies for affordable housing.

In Missoula, the average renter makes about 50% of the area median income, meaning the average renter may qualify for affordable housing. Here’s how to know if you qualify: 

DETERMINING ELIGIBILITY

Because permanently affordable housing is generally developed using public money, a person or household is eligible based on their income relative to the area median income (AMI).

The area median income is the midpoint of an area’s income distribution, meaning half of the individuals or families in an area earn more than the median income and half earn less. 

HUD sets rents and income limits for affordable housing that are respective to the area median income, and defines an “affordable” dwelling as one that a household can obtain for 30% or less of its earnings. 

In Missoula, about 49% of residents spend more than 30% of their income on home costs, and more than half of those spend more than 50% of their income, according to a 2021 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition

The area median income in Missoula is currently about $57,200. 

A single-person household living at 50% of the area median income makes about $28,600 a year, or about $13.75 an hour for a full-time job. Similarly, a four-person family at 50% of the area median income lives with an annual income of about $40,800. 

“For Missoula, that’s the wage that you’ll be earning at some restaurants, gas stations or if you’re a custodian at an area school,” said Karissa Trujillo, operations and program director at Homeword, a nonprofit partner in the development of the Trinity Apartments that also oversees various affordable housing projects in Missoula. 

“It was exciting when we began these projects and, as they’ve been under development, we’ve seen the Missoula market become, frankly, crazy, and these units are critical.”

Jim McGrath, director of Housing and Urban Development programs for the Missoula Housing Authority

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Missoula is currently about $866, according to the Missoula Organization of Realtors, but the average renter only makes $13.20 an hour, meaning the average renter needs to work more than two jobs to afford rent. 

“We’re seeing an increased need because the cost of rent and homeownership are increasing with really stagnant wage growth,” Trujillo said. 

Trujillo described the design of affordable housing projects as a “puzzle” in which there are units available for people earning different amounts of the area median income. For example, a permanently affordable apartment complex may have designated units available for people who make 40% of AMI, 50% of AMI or 60% of AMI. 

That could include one-bedrooms for people at 50% of the AMI, two-bedrooms for people at 60% of the AMI and studios for people at 30% of the AMI.

“Each unit or each home has a different combination of household size and area median income,” Trujillo said. “And we put all of those pieces together to make this puzzle so that the property can pay its bills.”

ELIGIBILITY AT TRINITY AND VILLAGIO

Trinity Apartments will have units available for people earning 30% to 70% of the AMI for Missoula. That means a person may be eligible for a unit at Trinity if they make approximately $17.74 an hour ($36,890 a year) or less for one person, or $52,640 or less for a household of four, according to MHA’s website. 

Trujillo said the rent for a two-bedroom at Trinity will fall roughly in the range of $740 to $1,000, based on a renter’s income. The higher a person’s income is relative to the area median income, the higher their rent will be. 

“If you’re living at 70% of the area median income, your rent is going to be higher than somebody who’s living at 40% of the area median income,” Trujillo said. 

Trinity will also include 30 permanent supportive homes to people experiencing long-term homelessness. Those residents with income will pay 30% of their income toward their home, and assistance from the federal government will cover the rent for those with no income. 

Because the federal government updates the area median income annually, the exact income restrictions will change slightly by the time Trinity and Villagio are ready to be leased. 

The Villagio complex will have two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments available for people making at or below 60% of area median income, according to MHA’s website. That means people may be eligible for units at Villagio if they make approximately $16.50 an hour ($34,320 a year) or less for one person, or $48,960 or less for a household of four. The project will also include 32 units for those eligible for federal housing assistance. Those units are not set aside for any specific population, but people who have no income or who are homeless would qualify, McGrath said. 

THE APPLICATION PROCESS

The Missoula Housing Authority is the property manager that will oversee the applications for the Trinity and Villagio complexes. MHA is currently developing a list of people interested in units while the projects are being built. 

To be placed on that list, contact Alicia Thomas at the Missoula Housing Authority at athomas@missoulahousing.org or 406-549-4113, ext. 118, or visit http://trinity.blpmc.com

When leasing begins for the Trinity and Villagio apartments, MHA will mail application packets to those who have expressed an interest. 

The first phase of Trinity Apartments will start leasing between October and early December of this year, with the second phase expected to start in December or January, McGrath said. 

The first phase of the Villagio Apartments will start leasing in the spring of 2023, with the second phase to follow a couple of months later. 

McGrath, at MHA, said the units will be offered as applicants are approved. 

“Applicants will have choices at the beginning, so if you’re the first applicant for a two-bedroom, you get your choice of all the two-bedrooms that are available,” McGrath said.

Applicants need to document their income as part of their application. However, if an approved applicant moves into a unit and then sees an increase in their income, they will not be required to move. 

“What typically happens if somebody’s income goes up significantly, they can afford other choices and they decide to move somewhere else,” McGrath said. “But they don’t have to, and that’s important because it’s not a disincentive for people to improve their situation.”

Trujillo and McGrath said the Trinity and Villagio complexes will accommodate more family sizes than previous affordable housing projects have been able to. 

“Both projects have a mix of unit sizes including four-bedrooms, which are almost never built anymore, so we’re excited about being able to offer units to larger families,” McGrath said. 

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Cameron Evans

Cameron Evans is a freelance journalist based in Missoula. Cameron is a graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and worked for the Missoulian. Her work has appeared in USA Today, Kaiser Health News, Business Insider and INSIDER. Find her at cameronevans.me or follow her on Twitter.