Whitefish stepping up to address critical housing needs

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An affordable-housing project proposed in Whitefish is one of eight finalists for the next round of Montana Board of Housing tax-credit awards, and that’s great news for a community whose housing needs have reached a critical level.

Whitefish Housing Authority Executive Director Lori Collins told the Daily Inter Lake that the Whitefish project ranked third highest among the finalists in the preliminary review. It appears the state board likes projects in cities that are committed to putting their money where their mouth is.

In this case, the city of Whitefish is throwing in $150,000 toward the land purchase, and the housing authority has committed $50,000. Another bonus for the 38-unit housing complex proposed off Wisconsin Avenue near Piggyback BBQ is that philanthropic landowners Al and Lisa Stinson are giving the housing authority a huge price break on the property. Once again, we see the public-private partnership at work in a community that has written the book on such collaborations for all kinds of amenities.

Let’s hope the Whitefish project is successful when the tax-credit recipients are announced in November.

A couple of projects offering affordable and workforce housing are starting to gel in Whitefish. The 58-lot Trail View subdivision on the city’s eastern border promises homes both as affordable deed-restricted units based on income and homes considered workforce housing. And the Alta Views housing project off JP Road will offer 166 units of largely workforce townhouses.

In case you were wondering, there is a specific difference between affordable and workforce housing.

The U.S. government considers housing costs at or below 30 percent of one’s income to be affordable. The federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program defines workforce housing as affordable to a family of four earning as much as 60 percent of the area median income.

Look around the Flathead Valley and you’ll see houses being built by the dozens right now. Subdivisions are springing up everywhere, but as long as there are people moving in who are able to buy higher-priced homes, it will continue to be a struggle for those plugging away in the affordable-housing arena.

To its credit, Whitefish is working diligently to develop affordable and workforce housing opportunities. It’s a tough row to hoe, though. Rent prices are escalating, more rental units are being converted to vacation rentals and “regular” homes are becoming out of reach for most working folks in the resort town.

Yet we’re encouraged by what we’ve seen so far. The city, Whitefish Chamber of Commerce and housing authority are collaborating on a number of levels. That bodes well for families on a quest for the proverbial American Dream: a place to call home.

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