WATCH NOW: Missoula’s new family crisis shelter nears completion

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and community leaders sang the praises of a federal tax credit program Friday during a tour of Missoula’s still-under-construction shelter for homeless families and those experiencing domestic violence.

“Everything you see today would not have happened if not for the New Market Tax Credits,” said Cindy Weese, executive director of YWCA Missoula, which will partner with the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative’s Family Promise program to run the new Meadowlark facility on South Third Street West.

Left unsaid as the group in hard hats and lime-green safety vests made their way through the spacious, framed-out rooms was the fact that the New Markets Tax Credits program is scheduled to sunset at the end of the year unless Congress approves new funding.

New Markets Tax Credits, authorized in 2000, encourage investment in low-income urban areas and rural communities by providing tax credits to private investors. As of last fall, Missoula’s nonprofits had seen about $25 million worth of projects under the program. Weese credited MoFi, a nonprofit that specializes in helping those not served by traditional financial institutions, as well as First Security Bank, in helping arrange part of the complex financing for the $12 million shelter project.

“This shelter is going to be transformative,” said Weese of the nearly 37,000-square-foot building that has separate, secure wings for homeless families and victims of domestic violence. Although the shelter was designed before the current pandemic, its 25 individual family units — each with its own bathroom — are ideal for social distancing.

Last year, the YWCA’s seven-bedroom, three-bath shelter served more than 250 people, with 25 in the shelter at any one time, she said. For those people, already under severe stress, “the current shelter is very chaotic,” she said.

Shelter workers feared an uptick in calls when the Gov. Steve Bullock implemented a stay-at-home order in March, which effectively isolated domestic violence victims with their abusers. “But there was a lull, like an eerie quiet, on our crisis line,” she said. By July, after the state’s phased reopening began in May, the number of calls picked up and the shelter was full again, she said.

“This is noble work, providing voice for those who don’t have a voice,” said Daines. He praised the collaboration of nonprofits and businesses on the Meadowlark project — “this great safe place,” he called it — adding that “in an unfortunate age for a lot of division in our country, it’s nice to see people coming together.”

At the moment, though, the New Market Tax Credit program that made Meadowlark possible is caught up in those divisions.

House and Senate measures to permanently fund it have languished in their respective chambers since being introduced last year. Both Daines, a Republican, and Montana’s senior senator, Democrat Jon Tester, signed on as cosponsors of the Senate measure; Greg Gianforte was not among the Republican representatives cosponsoring the House measure. Another attempt to permanently fund the program was tucked into the $1.5 trillion House infrastructure bill that passed 233-188 (Gianforte voted nay) in July and moved on to the Senate, where it is expected to die.

“This nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate. It will just join the list of absurd House proposals that were only drawn up to show fealty to the radical left,” said Republican and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, characterizing the massive infrastructure bill, according to a report in The Hill.

Daines said Friday the Senate is focused on a COVID-19 relief package. “We’re trying to find a path forward” on extending the New Market Tax Credits program — whether it’s part of the relief package or in separate legislation, he said.

The new shelter should be completed by January, with the YWCA and related programs ready to move in by spring, Weese said.