Housing Prices Hurting Local Businesses

By Beacon Staff

Median income earners searching for affordable housing in Kalispell should expect some stiff competition: There are only 93 rentals and eight homes for sale available in their price range.

“That level of wage earner is the most likely market here,” Cal Scott, president of the northwest Montana association of realtors, said. “These are the people we rely on, but take for granted – our teachers, firemen, police, city and county workers. These are the people who can’t find affordable housing.”

Scott was one of four guest speakers at a workforce housing panel Tuesday hosted by the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce. Speakers had five to 10 minutes to present their views on affordable housing, followed by a question and answer session.

Scott defined affordable housing as safe and sanitary housing that a household can get and maintain by spending no more than 30 percent of their total monthly income. That means a Kalispell household with a median income of $36,444 annually can afford to spend $911 a month. He found only 93 rentals and eight homes currently available here in that price range.

Kalispell Planning Director Tom Jentz said the city was moving away from previous trends of sprawling housing developments, instead focusing on subdivisions like the recently approved 3,000-home Starling development. Jentz said in the 90’s the land Starling will be built on would’ve only had 110 lots, and “Starling probably has nicer amenities than that would’ve.” By focusing on high density developments that include a wide variety of housing types and prices, Kalispell can keep land prices down and housing reasonable while still maintaining a community-feel.

The Chamber hosted the forum because of the effects of lacking affordable housing on businesses – many are unable to attract employees because employees can’t afford homes. Vicki Billmayer, director of human resources at Semitool, and Merna Terry, co-owner of Ron Terry Construction, have both felt the effects on their businesses firsthand. Billmayer said where Semitool once had 75 unsolicited applicants in a week they now struggle to fill seven positions, and that affordable housing plays an integral role in attracting those new employees.

Terry said she and her husband were committed to building affordable homes, but that the cost of building two or three bedroom homes was already above what average or median wage earners can afford. “The cost and what people can afford just don’t jive right now.”

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