Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church is located on and owns approximately 18 acres of land. It has been our plan to find mission partner with which to develop this land in a way that serves our mission and our community. Spurred by the current housing crisis in our community and a Community Development Block Grant, we are engaged in a planning process to fully identify the feasibility and potential for developing our land for affordable housing.
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Development Planning Update for January 19, 2021
Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church, along with our partners; The City of Helena, Helena Area Habitat for Humanity, YWCA, Rocky Mountain Development Council, and Trust Montana were granted $40,000 of planning money through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. This, along with partner matching funds and City funds of $28,000, are funding a development planning process for our land. This process will help determine partner and congregational goals, community and development goals, and the general feasibility of developing the property around the church.
To lead ORLC and our partners through this process, the consultant team of Mosaic Architecture and SMA Architects, along with consultants Stahly Engineering and GL Development have been hired. A kick-off meeting with the congregation was held on Sunday, July 25th during which the consultant team and our planning partners were introduced. Leading the planning process from Mosaic Architecture are ORLC members Jeff Downhour and Gretchen Krumm and from SMA Architects, member Tim Meldrum. Both firms have extensive experience working with public planning processes, master plans, and CDBG-funded planning and construction projects.
Each of our partners shares in the mission vision of providing affordable, safe housing for people in our Helena community, but they each target services to a different sector of our community.
- The YWCA specifically serves women and children. They are seeking to create transitional housing for women who have graduated from their intensive 6-month sober living program to support them in After Care while they find suitable housing. This facility would provide 18-24 months of housing for these women and their children in a tobacco, alcohol, and drug free living environment where they continue to receive supportive services and gain the financial independence required for more stable housing. The YWCA is also opening a trauma-informed daycare this fall to specifically provide services to children who have experienced trauma. Their staff are specifically trained in the environment and therapy needed to nurture these children.
- Rocky Mountain Development Council develops, owns, and manages affordable rental housing. They typically leverage several different funding sources to subsidize the financing of their projects, including Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), CDBG Housing grants, Housing Trust Fund (HTF), and Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) grants. RMDC’s current properties range in size from 8 to 85 units and its total portfolio includes 382 units in the tri-county area. Tenants must income-qualify to rent from RMDC. RMDC provides on-site management and maintenance of their properties.
- Helena Area Habitat for Humanity builds housing for income-qualified people who can qualify for a loan for a reduced-cost home. They leverage material, labor, monetary donations, and grants, as well as a mutual self-help programs in which neighbors help one-another to build their homes to reduce the sale price of the home to the qualifying homeowner.
- Trust Montana is a Community Land Trust. They hold land in trust for affordable housing and establish ground leases with the final building owners. They manage any future resale or property transfer to maintain compliance with the affordable housing land trust. Resale of buildings are restricted to income-qualified buyers and price escalation is capped to insure long-term affordability of the property.
- The City of Helena is our grant sponsor. They recognize a desperate need for more affordable housing in our community and are taking steps to encourage the development of such, including creating an Affordable Housing Trust Fund and a potential fee waiver for any project serving a population at or below sixty percent of the area median income. Their support and sponsorship of this planning effort is yet another indication of their commitment to solving this community problem.
During September and October, the congregation was involved in the first phase of this planning effort – to discuss and assess future church mission goals. The goal of these discussions was to establish a church campus boundary beyond which the congregation was comfortable allowing our housing partners to begin planning housing.
We kicked off this mission planning effort with a Listening Session with our neighbors. We sought neighborhood feedback on future church missions as well as site amenities the neighborhood would be interested in seeing as a part of the development. Feedback was gathered using an online survey tool. Of the possible future church mission developments presented, the neighbors reacted most positively to Preschool Expansion, Community Multipurpose Building, and Daycare. Site amenities of most interest to the neighborhood were creek access, playground, and trails.
Following the Listening Session, congregational members engaged in a series of three progressive meetings (each meeting offered at two different times) focused on evaluating future church missions that impact site utilization.
The first of these meetings was focused on assessing and discussing a list of future missions developed by the Property Development Committee. Again, an online survey tool was used to assess priorities of future missions and development principles. We learned that maintaining a land development ethic informed by sustainable principles is a high priority for church members. These principles would include minimizing the impacts of development on existing soils, water sources, vegetation, and animals; optimizing the proportion of open space to built space suitable for the well-being of residents and rainwater runoff management; and promoting energy efficient construction, on-site renewable production, and on-site recycling collection and composting. The other foundational principle for planning affirmed was the idea of “faith mission” – the understanding that we cannot fully know the future needs of this congregation and thus need to provide opportunity for these unknown future missions. Mission development opportunities that ranked highest were preschool, daycare, columbarium/memorial garden, outdoor worship space and community garden.
The second of these meetings was a site planning exercise at which participants in small groups had the opportunity to look at a site plan with scaled future missions located on the “church campus”. Pre-cut scaled development blocks could also be used to test alternative placements and arrangements of these, and small groups were encouraged to generate discussion around these design alternatives and share them with the larger group.
The final meetings of this phase were held on Sunday, October 10th and Wednesday, October 13th. At these meetings the design team presented a site plan for the church campus including high priority future mission development. Additionally, general givens and preliminary road layouts for the remainder of the site were presented for context. The church campus boundary proposed for planning purposes received full support from meeting participants.
On Sunday, November 14th, between services, the congregation held a congregational meeting at which the proposed boundary was presented, and a vote of the congregation affirmed the boundary for the purposes of allowing our planning partners to begin planning housing for the remainder of the property.
The planning team has held the first workshop with all partners represented to discuss project goals and strategies. Identified goals include:
- Create a neighborhood that connects to the larger community.
- Create living units that prioritize individual privacy and dignity.
- Prioritize sustainable development principles.
- Create a financially feasible development.
- Seek and encourage partner collaboration.
At this meeting, our housing partners provided updates on the current status of the housing crisis from their perspectives. The average home price in Helena just recently exceeded $400,000. RMDC now has over 900 people on the waiting list for their Red Alder Residences property. Habitat for Humanity now has 250 families on their waiting list. The YWCA reported that homelessness has increased 150% in the last 18-month period. These statistics, along with current construction prices, have the team developing strategies for optimizing the housing density while still preserving the desired open-space, trails, and site amenities needed to support a great neighborhood environment. What we heard from our housing partners is that time is of the essence. While this project alone cannot solve the crisis, incremental solutions are needed soon.
The opportunities for ORLC to support this new neighborhood with community-use spaces, community gardens, preschool services, and future visions of offering daycare services and supporting our partners through community service ministries are great. This opportunity for our congregation to be more fully engaged in community service could be pivotal and life-changing in many ways. We ask for your continued prayers as this congregation discerns its role in the community.