Bluebunch Flats a new era for old hospital


Andrea Davis
By: 
Andrea Davis
Guest columnist

The New Year is approaching, marking the end of a period time and the start of another. This cycle allows us to reflect on times and people gone by and lets us dream of what’s possible. The former Livingston Memorial Hospital at 13th and Crawford will cycle too. For decades, that building housed joy and pain and took in many people for a path to better health. Now it will help people live healthy lives differently, by being home to 34 apartments that residents of Livingston can afford. The new name for the building is Bluebunch Flats, inspired by the Montana state grass and its importance as a forage grass for both livestock and native wildlife and for its restorative abilities.  

Homeword, a nonprofit headquartered in Missoula, will be leading the redevelopment and ownership of the apartments and will be partnering with the HRDC. For a bit of background on Homeword, in the last 23 years we have developed new or preserved close to 900 homes that are affordable to Montanans in 26 properties in 11 communities. Those are in the form of single family homes and apartments. This will be our fourth historic rehabilitation project. We have also served over 12,500 people in our HomeOwnership Center with financial literacy education, homebuyer education and housing counseling.

We take the time to consider how our properties relate to existing neighborhoods. This is one reason we were excited when Livingston community members reached out to us to help this building have a new purpose. In addition to the diverse neighborhood fabric, we were excited at the challenge of repurposing a former hospital into apartments. We have respect for good, quality buildings and the former hospital is one that provides a great opportunity for a future use. We’ve been working for two years to put together the financing that will result in homes that are affordable to those earning lower wages or those living with fixed incomes.

Affordable housing is a term that can be used casually and can result in confusion or suspicion. So let me explain just what this is. Housing is considered affordable when you pay 30% of your gross income toward housing costs. Bluebunch Flats will have rents limited to those earning 40, 50 and 60 percent of the area median income. Seniors living on fixed incomes and people earning about $12.23/ hour ($25,440/year) or less, depending on the size of their household, will be eligible to live at the property. The rents will be capped to remain affordable at those income levels and those with a Section 8 voucher are welcome to apply. By regulation, the rents are updated annually so for today those rents range from $365 to $729. We will create studio, one and two-bedroom apartments on the main floor with resident storage and common recreation space in the basement (accessed by an elevator). The property will be fully accessible and will include exterior amenities like community gardens and sitting/gathering areas. We will be developing additional off-street parking to accommodate the apartments and they will be professionally managed by a certified third-party property management company. Construction will begin in summer of 2018 and the apartments will be ready to lease in the fall of 2019. This can’t happen soon enough as people need quality, affordable places to live now. To place your name on the interest list please send an email to bluebunch@thehrdc.org or call (406) 333-2537.

Homes that people can afford have been identified as a critical need by many local businesses, the City of Livingston, Park County, service agencies and individuals. During our listening sessions, we learned of many businesses that could not hire adequate staff because those workers had no where they could afford to live in town. It’s simple – homes are where jobs go to sleep at night. Not only does affordable housing construction create jobs, it increases local consumer spending and strengthens local businesses. 

Specifically, this project is being financed with federal Housing Tax Credits, administered by the Montana Board of Housing. The housing credits, in addition to Historic Tax Credits, will generate private investment that, along with commercial debt, will allow us to build high quality, energy efficient homes that will remain affordable for 50 years. The Housing Tax Credit has produced more homes for working families than any other in the history of the United States. The future of this resource is at risk because of provisions in the Federal Tax Reform bill. Please visit http://rentalhousingaction.org to learn more. Please visit our website to see some of our properties and our approach to housing development and housing education www.homeword.org.

The New Year will mark a new era for the old hospital. When Bluebunch Flats opens its doors, a new chapter in the life of this building will begin.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Andrea Davis is executive director of Homeword, a nonprofit headquartered in Missoula.

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