Uncovering A Conflict Of Interest With Missoula’s Latest Affordable Housing Project

by William Skink

UPDATE BELOW

Earlier this week, after writing about Karen Tempkin and her skills in providing corporations like Raytheon with slick sustainability propaganda, I started composing an email to the board of Home Resource, a great local organization that saves deconstructed materials from heading to the landfill.

Home Resource helps fund the sustainable Missoula column, so I was curious if I would get any reaction regarding the platform being used by a former Raytheon apologist.

I never sent the email because doing some quick research on the board members led me to realize just how incestuous Missoula is.

One of the past presidents of the board of Home Resource, Nate Richmond, is now president and CEO of BlueLine Development.

What is BlueLine Development? I’m glad you asked. Here is a screenshot from their website:

Screen Shot 2020-06-05 at 6.24.06 AM

What a nice array of services, especially for anyone developing affordable housing. All those juicy subsidies, like tax credits and opportunity zones and TIF, really does benefit from a company that doesn’t just BUILD affordable housing, but also MANAGES ASSETS and of course the ubiquitous CONSULTING.

BlueLine Development is a regional player, billing itself as serving Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Here in Montana, BlueLine Development got the contract to build Trinity Apartments. Pay close attention to the name of the project manager:

The Trinity project, owned 50-50 between Homeword and the Missoula Housing Authority, will include 202 units on two parcels, including 72 low-threshold homes off Cooley Street and 130 homes off Mullan Road.

That latter parcel was donated by Missoula County and will include 30 supportive housing units, along with 100 units of workforce housing. It will also include an on-site navigation center to provide 24-hour resources, from food security to medication support.

“It’ll have a multitude of resources within that building to help this population be successful,” said Keenan Whitt, the project manager with BlueLine Development. “It’s an opportunity for us to partner with area nonprofit and service providers and create a model that doesn’t duplicate current services in the community.”

The reason I am familiar with the name of the project manager is because she used to work at the Poverello Center many years ago. The Executive Director at the time, Ellie Hill, hired Whitt as the Development Director of the shelter. I never saw Whitt’s resume, so I don’t know if she was qualified for the job, but I do know one thing that made hiring her attractive to our scheming ED: she is the daughter of Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.

This obvious conflict of interest is just par for the course in Missoula. You may not want to see it, but it’s there. And really, it doesn’t take that much digging to start making some of these connections.

While I miss the reporting of the Missoula Independent, I really do need to thank Martin Kidston and his little upstart online rag. Without Kidston’s slavish loyalty to developers, and his willingness to provide his platform to corporate sustainability wizards, I never would have made some of these connections.

Today the Missoula Current has an article about problems with this affordable housing project. Apparently the city wants to subdivide the parcel gifted by the County, and BECAUSE COVID, no one at the city picked up a phone or issued an email to let the County know:

County commissioners said they were unaware of any plans to subdivide the parcel, calling it unnecessary. If the county needed the additional space created by a second parcel, it could cross that bridge down the road.

“If the remainder was to be used for a future detention facility or county expansion, that’s likely years or decades down the road,” Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said. “If it’s just county expansion, why would we even need to contemplate creating an additional lot? I thought we were close to being where we needed to be.”

The affordable housing project remains on task and was made possible by the county’s land donation and the city’s willingness to issue tax exempt bonds. Combined with the Low Income Housing Tax Credits, the public contribution will save the developer around $670,000 in costs, allowing it to pass the savings on to future tenants.

County officials doesn’t believe subdivision is necessary. Both city and county leaders pledged to meet to resolve the lingering hurdles, agreeing the recent pandemic has challenged communication.

The next time you hear about some lofty goal from our elected officials, like going ZERO WASTE, please recall that during this time of pandemic, they couldn’t even make a phone call or send an email to update key stakeholders of a major change in a development project.

UPDATE: In re-reading one of the articles, it was pointed out that the Trinity project is not using public funds, like TIF. Instead it’s some new kind of bond. The argument can therefore be made that there is no technical conflict of interest here. That said, it certainly doesn’t look good.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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6 Responses to Uncovering A Conflict Of Interest With Missoula’s Latest Affordable Housing Project

  1. Good detective work. This will of course be the only place we hear about this. TV news and newspapers aren’t interested. I do find the hypocrisy interesting, in regards to that silence. For instance, over the past few weeks leading up to the primary, we heard a lot of Dems complaining about Nelly Nicol running for auditor when her dad is a big insurance company exec. She’s a Republican, so she has to be called out. But here in Missoula, Buchanan is a Democrat, so the nepotism is ok. We’ll especially ignore it considering that Buchanan and her MRA board donate to the mayor’s election campaigns.

  2. TC says:

    Will – I think you broke me today. I am so grateful for your reporting! You tell the tales that all 6 local media should tell (but don’t). The report today about the incestuousness of Missoula just took me to my knees! I have always believed that Ellen Buchanan was the devil that would reap evil over the Missoula we knew. But I also believed that one day she would be gone (OK Boomer). Things would get better when her and Engen and Jones were gone. But today you showed that their progeny are now part of the power structure in Msla. There is no end ( in my lifetime/ or my childrens) to this bullshit.
    Therefore – I give up! Pass all your bond issues/mill levies -my voice doesnt matter

  3. john mcnaught says:

    incestuousness ? Whew !

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