More Context On Blue Line Development’s Affordable Housing Schemes For Missoula

by Travis Mateer

I found a podcast about affordable housing that features Blue Line Development cofounder Nathan Richmond that I am listening to right now. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Richmond discusses how Montana has very few resources for his company to exploit for the ostensible benefit of homeless people, unlike other states where his company operates, like Colorado.

For example, the Arroyo Village in Denver is a project that combines over 130 affordable housing units with a 11,000 square foot homeless shelter. This is what Missoula’s Trinity Apartment complex project is based on, according to Richmond.

The financing of this $30 million dollar project used a tax-exempt bond, a 4% tax credit and a bunch of grants from Denver’s version of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. Richmond acknowledges that much of Colorado’s financial support of affordable housing projects like he’s building is coming from taxes derived from Cannabis sales.

In Missoula the Trinity Apartment project DID NOT use any TIF money from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, but I’m not sure if the reason for that is the project wasn’t eligible to use TIF, or if the family relationship between the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s director, Ellen Buchanan, and the project manager of Trinity, Keenan Whitt (Buchanan’s daughter), created a unique barrier to utilizing this potential revenue stream for Blue Line Development.

The role of Blue Line Development at the now TRANSITIONAL Safe Outdoor Space is much murkier, and I haven’t found any podcasts featuring Nathan Richmond discussing how to put a piece of property under your wife’s name in what appears to be an effort to avoid scrutiny.

The land where Missoula’s FIRST official homeless encampment exists is a piece of property that would be difficult to develop, according to a source I talked to. The main reason is that the city sewer doesn’t extend beyond the river at Buckhouse bridge, so the land owner would need to apply for a variance of some kind.

Will “creative” solutions to the regulatory constraints of sewage disposal be a future area of inquiry for out County Commissioners? I don’t know, they currently appear too busy using the United Way and other private sector partners (read Blue Line) to hide their scheming from pesky stakeholders, like the media and the tax-paying public.

Despite the cowardly act of hiding behind the lived experiences of homeless people, a fuller picture of our illuminated braintrust’s plans is beginning to emerge.

I just hope our legacy media and online upstarts can translate this emerging picture into critical questions for our political establishment as they line up behind Mayor Engen for his fifth term.

Thanks for reading.

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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8 Responses to More Context On Blue Line Development’s Affordable Housing Schemes For Missoula

  1. Greg Strandberg says:

    “and the project manager of Trinity, Keenan Whitt (Buchanan’s daughter),”

    Uh…wow! These are the kinds of dots our local media should be connecting. I don’t think NBC Montana will be able to keep up their muckracking much longer – the city will simply cut them off. Missoulian is worthless, has been for years, and KECI, KPAX and ABC Montana are almost as bad.

    You’d think there’d be someone on those staffs that cares, but I think most gave up years ago, and just want to keep the boat as stable as possible, counting down the days until they can get their pension. Sell-outs, has-been’s and never-were’s…all of whom are doing us a great disfavor.

  2. Djinn&tonic says:

    I suspect this is happening all across the country. Certainly several versions of the same. It’s methodical, systemic and goddamn clinical…

  3. J. Kevin Hunt says:

    Thanks for this.

  4. J. Kevin Hunt says:





    For Immediate Release: May 25, 2021

    Contact: J. Kevin Hunt
    Ward 1 Missoula City Council Candidate
    (971) 295-1969

    MISSOULA — The CEO and Board of Directors of Western Montana Mental Health Center (WMMHC) knew in 2017 that it would sell the Center’s 20 affordable Missoula apartments for special needs clients known as The Bridge, but informed its workers neither of that, nor that for the last two years the Center had been trying to sell the property to the City of Missoula, to Missoula County and others who would continue its purpose — until last Wednesday, a day after news broke that the apartments were listed for sale at market rate for more than $2 million.

    A WMMHC employee — who requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation — provided Ward 1 Missoula City Council candidate Kevin Hunt with a copy of what the source said was a email sent to WMMHC employees on May 19 by CEO Levi Anderson, revealing that information for the first time. (The text of that email is reproduced below).

    The source also told Hunt: “The residents of the completely occupied buildings (there is also a 4-plex, probably also bought with state funds) with a 2 year wait list, are being told WMMHC is working hard to find them VOUCHERS (for which there is a 3 year wait) and all will be well.”

    The source further told Hunt that CEO Anderson “tried to stop funding our 403B (STRONG reaction against that one!), took benefits from all non full time workers, and completely cancelled case management when the compensation from the state went down.”

    Text of CEO Anderson’s email to WMMHC employees:

    “Good afternoon everyone,

    “I’m happy to know that many of you were able to participate in the Employee Appreciation BBQ’s held at each of our campuses yesterday. I saw many great photos from around the organization. We had great participation – despite unfavorable weather – and these events have been sorely missed throughout the pandemic. It was great to get back to sharing some food and seeing so many of the smiling faces that make us a team. This was a great respite for a short while, each of you returned to the task at hand: providing excellent care and support for so many who’s lives would be far more challenging, or perhaps not possible, without your help.

    “The elephant in the room, as the day progressed, was that many of you saw and read news reports yesterday regarding the transition of ownership of two properties in Missoula; both single-tenancy apartment buildings that have and continue to house some individuals who receive services from our programs. I realize that this has caused some concern among staff and clients alike and I was to use today’s update as an opportunity to share information and address those concerns.

    “i have been working with the leadership team and the Board of Directors for the last two years to review our programming and understand how we can best support the work that you do. I have heard that our clinical teams are under-resourced and may not have the support necessary to be effective. Our approach has been to identify core competencies that directly affect our ability to fulfill our mission, and the result of this was that our core competencies – where our expertise lies and what we do that has the greatest effect on clients – are our clinical programs and services. It’s essential for any organization, especially non-profit agencies like ours, to focus all available resources on well-defined core competencies and the ownership, maintenance, and management of apartment buildings are not core competencies of the Western Montana Mental Health Center.

    “The reality is that our ability to maintain broad and far-reaching real estate real ownership disappeared following the Medicaid provider rate cuts in 2017 and it’s critical to the future success of the agency to ensure that all resources are dedicated to providing high-quality clinical services to our nearly 12,000 clients experiencing addiction and serious mental illness. It’s really important for you to hear that choosing to market these properties was preceded by nearly two years of discussion with the City of Missoula, Missoula County, and various organizations that specialize in supportive housing. And even while actively marketing the properties, we continue to work with organizations trying to maintain current use and hope to find a path to that result. I have had dozens of conversations with everyone Facebook can think of to transition these properties in a way that will maintain current use and keep the residents housed, and following the listings we’ve reengaged with some of those parties who now have a sense of urgency behind the discussion.

    “There’s a reactionary sentiment that this is “corporate greed.” I assure you that it is not.

    “There’s a sentiment that “we don’t care.” That’s not what I see every day when I come to work.

    “What I see every day is the opportunity of focus. We need to remain focused on providing services and care for clients, and I know that we can do this because I’ve seen it over the last 15 months. Caring for clients during a pandemic. And before that, changes to the reimbursement landscape required us to refine clinical programming as we remained focused. Changes in the competitive landscape have forced us to address staffing and personnel concerns that we’ve not experienced in our history, but we remained focused. It is more important now than ever that we act on every opportunity to focus resources on programs and infrastructure that directly contribute to fulfilling our mission through clinical programs.

    “I also need to own that our communication in the weeks and months leading up to this has been with those staff who primarily work with the clients and residents of these properties. While that was important, it wasn’t more so than recognizing that each of you have a vested interest in the major activities of this organization and need to be informed and prepared for these events. I lost the forest through the trees on this one and I’ll own that. My goal has been to bring the agency together as one and by not having specific information available for other programs and our sites outside Missoula I did that goal a disservice.

    “I anticipate having positive news regarding these properties in the coming days and am looking forward to sharing it when finalized.

    “Thank you all for your continued dedication to those who depend on us.

    “Levi Anderson, FACHE
    Chief Executive Officer
    Western Montana Mental Health Center

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