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Workforce, affordable housing lessons for Flathead Valley

| November 9, 2022 1:00 AM

It is encouraging that Whitefish and now Kalispell are beginning to seriously consider the challenge of maintaining a quality local workforce by exploring innovative workforce and affordable housing strategies. I would encourage them to examine possible lessons from other ski towns and tourist communities. One might be Park City, Utah which we recently visited.

Their newspaper, the Park Record, reports that the city is engaged in two major initiatives to promote workforce and affordable housing. The first is overhauling their Land Management Code to allow for fractional housing ownership or timeshares. This approach will allow developers to sell "fractions" of single-family homes and prohibits nightly rentals. This model greatly expands local homeownership (by 4 to 52 times, depending upon ownership patterns), stabilizes housing prices, better utilizes limited housing stock, and reduces transient nightly rentals and their associated impacts. Rather than many single-family homes sitting vacant most of the year, timeshare owners typically utilize their ownership 100 percent of the year. The other initiative is a joint partnership between city government and a private developer to convert unused public land for workforce housing. This small acreage project will include 123 rental housing units of which 99 will be deed restricted and 24 market rate. By making them deed restricted the city is guaranteed that their involvement and public investment will be protected for decades to come, providing Park City employees with affordable local housing.

Like Bigfork, Lakeside and Whitefish, Park City has struggled to preserve affordable housing for employees, forcing many to commute long distances or leave, creating workforce shortages and reduced community services. Also, like the Flathead, Park City had permitted too many short-term rentals, significantly reducing long-term rental housing. Hopefully Park City's experiments will be successful and instructive to other tourist communities, like in the Flathead, as our local leaders struggle to find long-term solutions.

Pat Malone, Columbia Falls

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