Thursday, December 1 2022


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The lack of affordable rental housing has reached a critical level in Whitefish as the conversion of long-term rentals to short-term vacation rentals continues at a steady pace.

Businesses in the city have limited opening hours due to a lack of staff. Tourism is at an all time high this summer, but businesses cannot fully take advantage of it as workers cannot find affordable places to live nearby.

These were some of the questions discussed during a roundtable on July 26 at Montana Tap House. The meeting was hosted by Ed Docter, owner of Tap House and Tamarack Ski Shop; Casey Malmquist, a local builder and developer; and Toby Scott, a member of the Whitefish Planning Board, hoping to form a group focused on the development of workforce housing.

“Basically our goal is to create something out of this,” Docter said, addressing a crowd of around 60 gathered at the meeting. “We have a lot of spirits here; we have a lot of people who want to help, no doubt.”

Lack of staff has become a constant headache for many businesses in Whitefish and Flathead Valley this year, and Docter said he couldn’t stand idly by and watch the city crumble. Due to the difficulties faced by his business, as well as many other shops, bars and restaurants in town, he arranged the meeting to get together to discuss their options for providing affordable housing for the workforce. local.

Docter said he plans to lose an employee every few days in August because they can no longer afford to live in Whitefish. He said in a recent online search that he found only one rental listed in Whitefish and that it was a low-income apartment, but his employees would not be there. right.

“My dishwasher is making too much money to qualify for this, but nowhere near enough money to buy the smallest condominium in this city – not at all, not at all,” he said. .

MALMQUIST, WHO called Whitefish home for 30 years, said he was discussing the housing issue with Docter and volunteered to consult on the project, offering his previous experience with workforce housing. He helped with a subsidized housing project in the Bakken Oilfields in North Dakota during the 2008 economic downturn. The oilfields were booming at the time, but the area had almost no housing available. for the influx of workers who settled there.

The company he was involved with built around 1,000 residences, not a typical “man camp” for housing labor in the oilfields. The company has built high-quality apartments, townhouses and single-family homes, Malmquist said.

“We kind of looked at this project as colonizing the moon. We had to create a base and sort of build from there,” he said. “It was the most successful business in the Bakken because it focused on people and provided a high standard of housing.”

Malmquist hopes to build on what he has learned from this project and apply it to the current situation in Whitefish. He said the city’s housing crisis had been worsening for years.

Malmquist, like Docter, is hoping to see the town of Whitefish, business owners and concerned citizens come together to create solutions for workforce housing and bring people together in a meeting last week was a beginning.

“The community will have to do this,” said Malmquist. “This community has had so many successful public-private partnerships – the performing arts centers, the library, the Wave, the rink. We have done it before and we can do it again.

“We’ve been talking about this for years,” said of the housing crisis. “It’s here. It’s critical. It’s at a crisis level right now.”

Scott said he is involved as a concerned citizen. He walks up Central Avenue, sees several businesses closed on a weekday, and wants to help change that.

COLLECTED ORGANIZERS contact details of those who attended the meeting and said they hope people with specific skills come forward to help with the effort, such as lawyers, developers, realtors, bankers and builders individual.

Several people shared stories and asked questions during the meeting, including business owners, city officials and representatives from the Whitefish Housing Authority. An affordable housing developer from Missoula also attended the meeting and offered ideas for moving housing projects forward quickly.

City manager Dana Smith said the city was interested in potential ways to partner with businesses to improve the housing situation for the workforce.

“The city can’t do it alone. I think we all understand that,” Smith said. “But we have the housing authority working with the businesses, and I think we can solve this problem together; there is a lot to be done. We have strategies that we are working on, but nothing that will not be the silver bullet. to solve this problem, so the more partnerships we can create and maintain, the better.

The purpose of the meeting was not to resolve the Whitefish housing crisis overnight, but Docter said he hoped it would be a place to start.

“I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I don’t know how I’m going to move forward,” he said of his own struggling business. “But the only way for me to move forward, like many of you, is to know that the help is on the way. That’s what we need; the help has to be on the way. “

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