City approves $2.15 million in federal funds for Baatz project

City Commissioners unanimously approved a request for HOME and HOME-ARPA funds for $2.15 million to NeighborWorks Great Falls for the renovation of the Baatz building for a supporting housing project during their May 16 meeting.

NeighborWorks Great Falls, in partnership with Homeword, submitted the request to redevelop the historic Baatz building, which would consist of 24 permanent supportive housing units along with one manager’s unit for a total of 25 housing units with a community services center located on the main floor, according to the staff report.

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The proposed project at 400 2nd Ave. S. has an estimated completion for fall 2024, according to the staff report.

“This permanent supportive housing facility would be the first of its kind in the Great Falls community. The city’s funding would be used in the building renovation as well as funding supportive services located in the community services center,” according to the staff report.

“Permanent supportive housing is an intervention that combines affordable housing assistance with voluntary support services to address the needs of people who have experienced homelessness. The services are designed to build independent living and tenancy skills and connect people with community based health care, treatment and employment services,” according to the staff report.

During the commission meeting, Sherrie Arey, NWGF director, said that the project “brings forth a tremendous opportunity for our community. The impact of permanent supportive housing cannot be overstated. Our project will be only the third in Montana this comprehensive. It provides stability, promotes independence, improves community well-being, reduces public costs, and fosters inclusivity.”

Arey said that in addition to providing housing and support for the unhoused population, permanent supportive housing offers community benefits.

“When individuals have access to stable housing and support services, their overall health and mental well-being improve. This, in turn, positively impacts the entire community, reducing strain on emergency services, healthcare systems, and other social resources. By investing in projects like the Baatz Block Apartments, we contribute to the well-being and safety of all our community members,” Arey told commissioners.

She said that permanent supportive housing also reduces public costs.

“Studies have shown that providing stable housing and support services to individuals experiencing homelessness is more cost-effective than relying on emergency shelters, hospitals and other public services. The Baatz Block Apartments, with their comprehensive approach, help decrease public expenses by addressing the root causes of homelessness and offering long-term solutions,” Arey said.

The proposed redevelopment is using multiple funding sources, including low income housing tax credits from the state and historic tax credits in addition to the request for city funding.

The Baatz building is located near the Cascade City-County Health Department, bus station and other sevices.

The funding request is broken down as follows:

  • HOME funding for renovation work: $1,277,495
  • HOME-ARP funding for renovation work: $722,505.45
  • HOME-ARP funding for supportive services: $150,000
  • Total HOME & HOME-ARP Funding – $2,150,000.45

City staff recommended approval of the request and has worked with the Great Falls Housing Authority, state historic preservation office, Montana Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to coordinate efforts of the Baatz project.

Shelia Rice, former NWGF director and chair of the state housing board, spoke in support of the project, as did Jolene Schalper of the Great Falls Development Authority.

Rice said it’s an example of maximizing tax credits.

“This project, it clicks every box,” Rice said, in that it restores a historic building, provides supportive services and addresses homelessness.

Schalper said funding can be tricky, especially for projects providing community based services and that the Baatz project is an “excellent use” of HOME and HOME-ARP funds.

“It’s a homerun for the city,” she said.

No one spoke in opposition to the project.

Commissioner Rick Tryon said he supported the project.

“I think it’s a necessary project here,” he said. “I applaud NeighborWorks for stepping up.”

Tryon said there have been discussions on homeless camps around town in recent years and the need to address the issue “the right way.”

He said groups can’t just open parking lots for camping.

Tryon said he applauded NWGF for addressing the issue the right way.

He asked about the operational funding, which Arey said was being addressed through the development of a reserve fund to maintain the property, especially for the first few years.

She said they won’t have debt on the project due to the financing structure, and are working with community partners to keep costs low and maintain the property over time.

Arey said they might apply for future federal funding through the city for the project, as well as tax increment financing funds for the façade and lighting.

She said the project will include a 24-hour desk service and late night security on the property.

Early this year, the city received the building permit to renovate the Baatz Building.

The building has been vacant for several years and is in need of significant renovation as it was not well maintained as an apartment building prior to being boarded up.

NWGF receives $6.1 million in low income housing tax credits for Baatz Building renovation

NWGF was awarded $6.1 million in low income housing tax credits from the Montana Board of Housing in 2021 for the project.

Residents of the apartments will pay rent, have a lease and have one on one support from a case manager to help build independent living and tenancy skills as well as be connected to community based physical and mental healthcare services. The first floor of the building will house both case management professionals as well as the community-based service providers, according to NWGF.