Friday, April 19, 2024

Chamber supports using resort tax for workforce housing

by Keven Gartland
| September 13, 2023 12:00 AM

Vote yes for community housing! That’s the unanimous recommendation of the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors. It’s just what our town needs to truly make a difference in the workforce housing crisis that has plagued local workers – and businesses – for the last decade.

That’s why the Whitefish Chamber has partnered with Housing Whitefish, Flathead Families for Responsible Growth and Shelter Whitefish to spearhead the campaign to approve the resort tax “reallocation” proposal that will be on the ballot this November, designating 10% of the funds collected from the city’s resort tax to affordable workforce/community housing programs, projects and developments.

Our town’s housing woes are no secret. Ten years ago our member businesses identified the shortage of affordable housing as the no. 1 threat to the continued growth and vitality of the Whitefish economy; eight years ago the chamber and city partnered to host our first Affordable Workforce Housing Summit; and two years later the City Council adopted a formal Strategic Housing Plan for our community.

Unfortunately, our efforts to build homes and apartments that working class folks can actually afford has been hampered by a number of factors, most notably the absence of a substantial, reliable and long-term funding source. The proposed resort tax reallocation would generate more than $27 million over the next 20 years for community housing – an average of about $1.4 million a year that could be used to build new housing units and fund programs to help local workers afford the soaring cost of housing in Whitefish.

Since these are tax dollars we’re talking about, the city of Whitefish will collect, hold, award and allocate the funding. The ballot measure states that the funding may be used for “community housing programs and projects,” each of which must be specifically approved by the City Council.

This is not a catch-all housing “slush fund." These funds will be allocated on a case-by-case basis, for specific programs or projects. Programs/projects may be proposed for funding by the city itself, or by outside organizations such as Housing Whitefish, the Whitefish Housing Authority, the NW Montana Community Land Trust, the Whitefish Community Foundation, or even the Whitefish Chamber.

Builders/developers could also apply for funding to defray a portion of their development costs (impact fees, for example), contingent on including a negotiated percentage of “permanently affordable” housing in their development.

There’s no “set in stone,” project-by-project development plan at this point — that’ll come together pretty quickly once we know that we’ll have funding available in early 2025. But even so, the Whitefish Housing Authority will be breaking ground soon on its snow lot townhome development; Housing Whitefish is moving forward with Phase 2 of the Alpenglow Apartments complex on Edgewood Place; and the chamber is working with Housing Whitefish to create a Workforce Housing Assistance Program that we hope to roll out in early 2024.

But first things first. If you’re not registered to vote, register today! And vote yes for community housing in the Nov. 7 election. It’s the most important thing you can do to help preserve our community’s economy — and its character!

Keven Gartland is executive director of the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce.