SANDPOINT — As the autumn cold sets in, dozens of affordable, efficient apartment units are standing empty — and local residents are suffering for it.
Planners behind the Milltown Apartment complex, located just north of Super 1, broke ground with the promise of housing that was both affordable and comfortable. Thanks to the shutdown of the federal government, however, those apartments will remain empty for an indeterminate period of time, according to Todd Prescott of complex developer Whitewater Creek.
“It’s your typical federal program — beginning and end of story,” he said.
Whitewater Creek received a loan earlier this year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture thanks to the project’s highly efficient construction practices and use of sustainable energy systems. The loan encompassed about 10 percent of the project’s total funding, Prescott said.
However, that loan required the project to be signed off by various administrators of the federal department. The complex’s original August opening date was pushed back while developers awaited final project approval. Prescott said the waiting period was longer than expected due to the need for paperwork to travel through local, state and federal tiers of the USDA. With most of the department now furloughed until Congress resolves the shutdown, Prescott said he can’t estimate an opening date with any kind of certainty.
It’s particularly frustrating to have capable apartment buildings standing empty when Whitewater Creek has overseen 45 similar projects in a much more expedient time frame, Prescott added. In the meantime, he’s keeping his eye on the news, hoping to see an end to the shutdown in sight.
That has placed several Sandpoint residents in a precarious situation, according to Tamie Martinsen of the Bonner County Homeless Task Force. The organization has received about eight phone calls from people who have left old housing with the expectation of moving into Milltown Apartments in August. Martinsen spoke of one unnamed woman in particular, who is now couch-surfing while she waits for the new apartments to open.
Due to the shutdown, a USDA representative could not be reached for comment.