Whitefish Workforce Housing Project Holds First Community Forum

Members of the Whitefish community gathered to discuss the urgent matter of workforce housing on September 1 on the back patio of Montana Tap House, where posters stapled to picnic tables broadcast a call for help. weapons – “Workforce Housing Project: If we don’t do it, we lose it.”

Ed Docter, a Whitefish resident and owner of Tamarack Ski Shop and Montana Tap House, hosted the inaugural gathering, which is expected to be the first of many weekly meetings scheduled for the Whitefish Workforce Housing Project (WWHP). At this week’s forum, Docter briefed affected residents on possible solutions to the housing crisis, as well as the costs of expanding the employee housing inventory. Doug Rommereim, owner of Great Northern Bar and Grill, and Jared Zuege, owner of Markus Foods, are other notable Whitefish business leaders helping to lead the charge.

Since the grassroots effort began in late July, Docter and his co-leaders, Casey Malmquist, president of KCM Enterprises Inc., and Toby Scott, a Montana-based record producer and member of the Whitefish Planning Board, have located a plot of land. suitable for housing up to 500 employees. If the appropriate zoning changes are approved, WWHP is looking to build several dormitories south of the city.

The organizers have also since met with Tracy McIntyre, Executive Director of the Montana Cooperative Development Center. McIntyre, who specializes in strategic planning, will advise the community group on sustainable workforce infrastructure and viable government collaboration.

The most immediate hurdles include zoning and funding, Docter said, adding that overall cost estimates for a project of this magnitude will likely run into millions of dollars. As ambitious as the project may seem at first glance, its leaders believe there are financial incentives to support their goal.

“It costs a lot of money,” Docter said. “But I did the numbers, and each employee makes me almost $ 8,000 a month, and I have 24 employees, so this plan is within our financial capacity.”

Next steps include WWHP highlighting the seriousness of the problem with other local establishments and highlighting the long-term benefits of a solution. Docter also suggested that residents attend city council meetings to get proper zoning approval so construction can begin once funding is secured.

After WWHP’s goals were outlined at its September 1 meeting, participants discussed immediate alternatives. Stacey Ingham, owner of Indah Sushi, expressed the possibility of housing employees in town through existing properties: “Could we bring together some big investors who could build a small fund to buy existing homes in Whitefish?

Another participant expressed a similar popular idea: “I think everyone knows someone who knows someone with an AirBnB home there. Can’t we ask them?

At the meeting, Eli Nagle, veteran and chef of Abruzzo Italian Kitchen, expressed the distressing strain the housing shortage has had on his overall mental health.

“A lot of my friends and I are exhausted,” Nagle said. “It’s hard to find the balance when the fear of losing a rental weighs on the minds of my colleagues.

Nathan Dugan, a resident of Whitefish, stressed the importance of tackling the housing shortage from all angles, including the development of more accessory housing units (ADUs).

Whitefish City Council will approve more ADUs, but the proposed changes to the city code have no rules to ensure units are rented at an affordable price. Dugan said such limitations would allow housing inequalities to proliferate.

“I don’t think a lot of people are going to intentionally restrict their properties,” Dugan said. “With at least 10 people at the next city council, we can get them to consider removing the owner-occupant requirements.”

After the hour-long meeting, many participants walked away with a renewed awareness that raising awareness was the next step towards resolving the workforce housing crisis.

“While we are launching this project, we need everyone’s help,” Docter said. “Show up to city council meetings and get involved with us. If we’re loud enough, maybe the residents and landlords will open their homes and their hearts. ”

To stay up to date on the Whitefish Workforce Housing Project, join the [email protected] mail server or visit its Facebook page.

To learn more about ADU restrictions in whitefish, contact Nathan Dugan, [email protected]

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