Sunday, September 26, 2021

Forcing long-term leases not way to solve affordable housing issue

| September 15, 2021 1:00 AM

Whitefish City Council, is there a better way to solve the affordable housing problem without artificially forcing homeowners to change the characteristics of the way they choose to rent their short- or long-term assets? The current talk about mandating negative incentives to the core constituency of Whitefish taxpayers exhibits inefficient economics, unfair penalization of property owners, interferes with property owners’ rights to the reasonable and free best use of their asset, and appears to overstep the bounds of their elected authority.

Our town leaders were dealt a difficult hand by the state Legislature, but perhaps it presents an opportunity to look at the other side of the economic coin, and solve this issue from the ground up instead of top down. Economic inequity in our country and community must be addressed. Council should examine instilling a livable minimum wage.

Many Whitefish owners are forced into short-term summer and winter rentals of their homes just to be able to pay the taxes and keep their properties. Rapidly rising property values have produced rapidly rising property taxes. As such, many long-time Montanans are forced off their properties and out of their homes when their valuations are reappraised. This is a sad and morally terrible way to treat our seniors, injured, and others who, for no fault of their own, are unable to keep up with rising taxes on properties that may have been in their family for generations. Having the city dictate to these vulnerable residents how they must manage their rental opportunities is unfair, and pits one class’ needs and wants unfairly above another's. People need flexibility to manage their assets as life's situations dictate.

As tourism is one of our state’s top sources of revenue why do we not now finally avail ourselves of a sales tax and simultaneously decrease or eliminate our high income and/or property taxes? We have a fair source of readily available revenue from visitors who have high discretionary incomes and can certainly afford a reasonable sales tax. We city residents have seen the great benefit from our resort tax. The council should expand on this and assist and push adoption of a state sales tax through the various political avenues.

The council's ear seems only to hear the demands of the Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitor Bureau, and big businesses that stand to gain from someone else picking up the slack in the affordable housing dilemma. It is the citizens that pay large property taxes that support the operations of our city. We need affordable housing, but we don't need to impinge the hard-working, law-abiding, individual taxpayers of our community while seeking to address this problem.

Not all short-term rentals are attractive for long-term rent (and vice versa), from either the landlord or lessees’ perspectives. High-end homes, high-density buildings, homes not proximate to goods and services, etc. all lend themselves more to one category or the other. Additionally, some owners may only have short periods of opportunities to rent, and need to live in their homes the rest of the time. Mandating long-term only rentals, or taxing short-terms at a high margin punishes these people who would otherwise have the opportunity to provide goods and services to a visitor, in return for a needed income.

Council members, we understand you are under duress and much pressure to solve a difficult housing issue, but humbly suggest you slow down and think this through more thoroughly. Usually, business-government partnerships work well in these types of issues. Housing owned and operated by a local business/government consortium may have merit. Regardless, let's put clear minds to this issue such that protection of citizen's property and owners rights are safeguarded along with finding housing solutions that are affordable, compassionate, and economically wise.

Curt McIntyre, Whitefish