Whitefish city counselors adopted an affordable house “roadmap” last night to tackle growing demand in the resort town.
Rent and mortgage rates have been outstripping average incomes in Whitefish for years, effectively forcing year-round workers, like teachers, cooks and firefighters, to look for housing outside the city where they work.
Kate Barry, who works in the service industry, says she wouldn’t be able to live here if it weren’t for the city’s existing affordable housing units.
"We're the lifeblood of this community," she said. "We contribute to the social and cultural capital of this community."
Barry was one of dozens of Whitefish residents and business owners who spoke at Monday night’s city council meeting and a two-hour work session about the city’s Strategic Housing Plan. Public comment ranged from glowing support to concerns that the plan did not address upper-middle-class residents and was not specific enough.
The Strategic Housing Plan is based on a housing needs assessment the city ran last year, which determined that Whitefish needs about 600 workforce housing units by 2020. The plan loosely outlines two dozen short and long-term strategies to address that need. They include homebuyer assistance programs, increasing or reallocating the city’s resort tax, and developing new housing rental units in city-owned lots. The goal is to keep rent and mortgage payments to less than 30 percent of household incomes.
City Councilman Richard Hildner says the plan is a good start but notes that each strategy will need to be adopted individually.
"I think it is an actionable plan," he said "But we must move to action with this plan. we must move to action, and if we don't, then we have missed a wonderful opportunity."
The meeting ended with city council members asking Whitefish’s city manager to get started by proposing a schedule for modifying zoning ordinances by the next regular meeting.