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Group continues to rally around workforce housing issue

by HEIDI DESCH
Whitefish Pilot | September 15, 2021 1:00 AM

One of the organizers behind an informal group centered on creating workforce housing in Whitefish continues to rally the community looking for solutions to bringing housing to town.

During a gathering at the Tap House last week, Ed Docter spoke to a group of about 30 people reiterating the struggles businesses owners are facing when it comes to finding employees because of a lack of affordable housing here.

“A lot of people have already left,” he said because of the lack of housing. “We’ve lost a lot of friends and we’ve lost a lot of employees.”

The group, calling themselves the Whitefish Workforce Housing Project, says they’re looking at potentially developing an apartment project but have also been working on more immediate solutions such as businesses leasing housing for their employees.

Docter asked those in attendance to support the cause by attending City Council meetings.

“A lot of this is going to take support,” he said. “We want to get 20,30, 40 people showing up to City Council meetings asking the city to consider helping us.”

The group held an initial roundtable meeting at the end of July inviting business owners and residents to participate by sharing concerns about affordable housing and ideas for solutions. Along with Docter, local builder Casey Malmquist and city planning board member Toby Scott, have been leading the group.

Last week’s meeting was a follow-up to provide an update and answer any questions, Docter noted. He said the plan is to meet every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Tap House to provide information for those interested.

In speaking with businesses around town, Docter estimates that about 500 employees have been lost in recent months as the price of housing has increased dramatically.

Docter, who owns the Tap House, said he has started leasing housing to provide for his employees with him paying part of the rent to keep it affordable. He said one homeowner approached him offering a lease, and he’s hoping others will come forward maybe converting their vacation rentals into long-term housing.

“We really looking for homeowners who will open their homes and their hearts,” he said. “I’ve got three leases with 11 beds and two weeks ago I had none.”

Another solution was suggested that business owners purchase homes themselves to provide housing.

Also briefly outlined by Docter was initial plans he says the group is working on to create a large-scale housing project. Though he didn’t provide a specific location he says a piece of land just outside the city limits has been identified as the potential spot that could be developed with 350 housing units.

“This is going to take everyone to figure out,” he said. “This is going to take a lot of public support.”

For more information visit the group’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Whitefish-Workforce-Housing-Project-101639402251557 or email workforcehousingproject@gmai.com