Workforce Housing Summit

 

A dearth of affordable housing for Whitefish’s workforce will be the center of discussion at an upcoming roundtable.

The Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, Montana West Economic Development and the City of Whitefish have joined in organizing the Affordable Workforce Housing Summit set for Sept. 24 at Grouse Mountain Lodge.

Kellie Danielson, president of Montana West, says affordable housing is a top concern among members in her organization and with the Whitefish Chamber.

“They say it’s difficult to attract people from out of the Flathead to live in Whitefish because there isn’t housing affordability,” she said. “They try to hire recent college graduates, then they visit here and see the cost of housing and that they probably have to commute.”

Danielson describes the “essential workforce” at teachers, first responders, government workers and people who work at restaurants and grocery stores.

“People want to be able to bike and walk to work, and live where they work,” she said. “Living in the community where you work is important.”

The lack of workforce and family housing is often discussed by Whitefish City Council. The city has incentives for developers to provide affordable units in exchange for density bonuses, but those are rarely taken advantage of.

Developers are allowed a 50 percent density bonus if affordable housing is provided at a rate of at least 10 percent of the project. The density bonus may also be taken by providing an $8,000 cash-in-lieu payment.

“Whether it’s $6,000, $11,000 or $8,000 — those are all numbers we’ve tried and nothing has worked,” council Richard Hildner said last week after council approved renewal of the cash-in-lieu amount. “We have to come up with a system that works to create affordable workforce housing. We need to actively explore other alternatives.”

Danielson agrees and says the summit will focus on working toward solutions, not just complaining.

“No one has all the answers, but let’s get together and talk about it and figure out action items to put in place,” she said.

Mayor John Muhlfeld is slated to speak at the summit, along with Whitefish Housing Authority director Lori Collins, and city manager Chuck Stearns.

The summit is open to the public. Register at www.whitefishchamber.org by Sept. 20.

The Daily Inter Lake and Whitefish Pilot are sponsors of the event.

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