Tracy Menuez, HRDC’s associate director, stands at a window at Perennial Park as a new resident moves into the 55-and-older affordable housing apartments that recently opened in Bozeman. Credit: Frank Eltman / MTFP

BOZEMAN — The first time Anna Stone encountered “Randy” in 2019, he was sleeping under a bridge. She recalled he appeared to have psychological issues and was not interested in the help of a stranger. Their introduction did not go well.

They met again in May 2020 when Stone, the housing case coordinator at the Human Resource Development Council, found him staying at a hotel for people over 65 who might be vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Randy,” who did not want his full name used for this story, slowly built a trusting relationship with Stone, who for two years has worked with him to transition from homelessness.

He will soon be the latest resident to move into a new 96-unit income-based housing development for adults over 55 called Perennial Park. It’s the latest effort by officials to put at least a small dent in the burgeoning problem of affordable housing in the region.

“To know that last summer he was sleeping on the ground in Lindley Park and this summer he’s going to be in an air-conditioned bedroom with [donated] French linen,” Stone gushed. “It feels like Christmas morning.”

Since late April, moving trucks have been unloading newcomers’ belongings at Perennial Park, which is located behind Lowe’s just off North 19th Avenue in Bozeman. It is part of a larger development that includes the adjacent 136-unit Arrowleaf project, which is geared toward families.

The Perennial Park development opened recently behind Lowe’s just off of North 19th Ave. Credit: Frank Eltman / MTFP

Also on the property are what turned out to be two key components of the $69 million project necessary for Seattle-based developer GMD Development to comply with city zoning regulations.

The Community Health Partners building at the entrance to the property will provide medical, dental and mental health clinics, and a pharmacy, for people throughout the Bozeman area. Across the way, Family Promise offers early childhood learning.

Residents of both Perennial Park and Arrowleaf must meet income qualifications of less than 60% of the area median income: $41,760 for an individual and $59,640 for a family of four.

In a city where one-bedroom apartments typically rent for nearly $2,000, qualifying residents at the Perennial Park apartments pay $1,119 for a one bedroom; $1,342 for a two bedroom; and $1,551 for a three bedroom, said Tracy Menuez, HRDC’s associate director.

“Randy” can afford the rent thanks to retirement benefits, Social Security and other economic assistance that Stone and others helped him obtain.

Menuez said the people who are the most in need of affordable housing are “the people that power Bozeman.” She noted that the most recent regional housing needs assessment determined Gallatin County needs an additional 6,000 units.

“If you want to go out to dinner, they are working in the restaurant. If you want to go to the home supply store, they are the people working the counter, working the floor,” she said. “Gosh, they’re the people teaching your kids.” 

Besides access to child care and health services, the housing development is within walking distance of a supermarket and other retail outlets and restaurants along a busy stretch of 19th Avenue.

“I love it,” said Bonnie Budd, a retired school crossing guard and lifeguard who was moving her belongings from a U-Haul truck one recent morning. “New people are moving in, and I’m looking forward to a brand-new life.”

“If you want to go out to dinner, they are working in the restaurant. If you want to go to the home supply store, they are the people working the counter, working the floor. Gosh, they’re the people teaching your kids.”

Tracy Menuez, HRDC’s associate director

Bozeman Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham said the development was made possible thanks to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s low-income tax credit project. The program provides federal subsidies to developers in exchange for a guarantee that they will keep rents below 60% of the area’s median income.

He also acknowledged an acute need for affordable housing in Bozeman. 

“Every day you hear stories of people who say, ‘I would love to be here, this is my town of choice, and unfortunately the housing market is not one that I can deal with.’”

Cunningham said those sentiments are “heartbreaking for anyone, especially for people who care about the city.”

The city kicked in $500,000 from its Community Housing Fund to help bring the project to fruition, Cunningham said. He said the 232 units of the two developments are providing affordable housing for 400 to 500 people.

“We’re losing affordable housing every time a mobile home park gets taken down, every time a HUD subsidy expires,” he said. “So to be able to say, `Boom, here’s 232 units that can solve the issues for 400 to 500 people,’ you know, that’s big.”

Steve Dymoke, a partner with GMD Development in Seattle, said his company relies exclusively on the low-income tax credit system to develop projects like the Arrowhead/Perennial Park property.

He said the company developed the Larkspur Commons project in Bozeman several years ago and recently just closed on its 10th project in Montana. GMD also has developed affordable housing projects in Alaska, Washington and Idaho.

He said the $500,000 that Bozeman gave for the Arrowhead/Perennial Park project was a key factor.

“You know, it may seem like a small percentage, but it plays an outsized role in feasibility,” he said. “It really made the deal, and beyond that it really signals to our investors, our lenders, that the city kind of is committed in supporting it financially. That’s a really strong vote of support.”

Dymoke praised Bozeman’s Rotherham Construction, which was responsible for building the complex. He said despite challenges with COVID-19 and supply chain issues, Rotherham “really managed to keep it by and large on schedule. It’s really been impressive.”

Though residents have been moving in since late April, Dymoke said a grand opening celebration is scheduled at the site on June 8.

“If you had three wishes from the Genie of Affordable Housing, this would be on the top of your wish list,” Cunningham said. “I can’t think of a project that has met so many community needs in one project. It’s really unique.”

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Frank Eltman is a former Associated Press reporter and editor who retired in 2020 after a 31-year career. He was the AP’s Long Island correspondent from 2006 to 2018, where he was honored with induction into the Long Island Press Club Journalism Hall of Fame. He most recently was an editor at the AP’s West Regional Desk in Phoenix, where he worked on stories in 13 western states including Montana. He and his wife moved to Bozeman in 2021 to live closer to their daughter and future son-in-law.