How hard times became the right time for community investment
As Montana developers withdrew during the recession, Clearwater ventured into uncharted waters to keep the dream of affordable housing alive in Ravalli County.
The year 2011 was a tough year for real estate in Montana. In the wake of the financial crisis, homebuyers, developers, and financial institutions were all confronted with difficult choices. Many housing developers walked away from projects, scaled back operations, or closed their doors entirely. That was how Clearwater came to be the owner of the largest planned subdivision in Stevensville at the time, a project called “Twin Creeks.”
Banks and credit unions don’t like to find themselves owning unfinished housing subdivisions, especially during a national real estate market decline. When that does happen, they typically sell fast and cheap, and move on. But that’s not the Clearwater way of doing business.
“When the economy took a downturn, it hurt everyone,” says Robin Goodman, Loan Support Services Manager at Clearwater. Clearwater saw its job as minimizing the pain where it could, not just walking away from it. The credit union also saw an opportunity.
The opportunity was to complete the development in a responsible manner, and to use some of the land to support affordable housing in Ravalli County, which has one of the highest discrepancies between median income and median home price in Montana.
“Knowing that the economy would eventually improve and that there was going to be even more need for affordable housing, we decided to work with the community to finish Twin Creeks,” says Goodman. “Choosing to not walk away from the project was the right thing to do by our membership, and it reflects our values by placing the needs of the community first.”
Clearwater contracted with a local engineering firm to complete the lengthy process required for subdivision development. The credit union then hired a local architect to render model home drawings with an eye for quality construction, an attainable price point, and the growth of a cohesive community of homes. These drawings were then offered to builders and homeowners at no cost in an effort to spark interest and construction.
Clearwater also partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Ravalli County and provided three lots at below market value. When construction started on the first house in Twin Creeks, it was a Habitat for Humanity house. The Montana Society of American Foresters, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the University of Montana carpentry program, and Clearwater all participated in the build.
At the time of this writing, there is only one lot remaining in Clearwater ownership. Completion of the subdivision will mean that 53 families will have a place to call their own in the town they call their home—proof positive that Clearwater’s decision to invest in the long-term well-being of the communities we serve was the right choice.