Report Highlights Affordable Housing Concerns in Whitefish

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – The Railway District of Whitefish is a neighborhood of contrast. On one side of the street sit brand new, high-end condos. On the other side, boarded-up bungalows.

This contrast is highlighted in a new report from the Whitefish Housing Authority, which says rising home prices have created an “extreme affordability gap” in the area. But housing authority executive director SueAnn Grogan says the recent acquisition of three houses in the Railway District is a step in the right direction.

Late last month, BNSF Railway donated three houses along First and Railway streets to the housing authority. Grogan said restoring the three shuttered homes would cost $50,000 to $75,000. She hopes to start renting one house early next year.

“They’re broken down, but the bones are there – the foundation and the roof are good – and sometimes we have to work with what we’ve got,” she said.

National Facility Consultants, Inc. completed the Housing Needs Assessment and Strategic Plan early this fall, the third such report since 2004. The goal of the report was to be a guide for the authority and what projects it should undertake in the coming years.

According to the report, property prices have risen in Whitefish in the last decade, even with the 2008 economic downturn. The number of homes has also increased. Between 2000 and 2010, the report state that housing units in Whitefish increased by 54 percent, from 2,652 units to 4,086 units. Even with more units, the report says it is becoming harder and harder for some locals to buy or rent.

“The cost of properties has escalated to a point where most are no longer affordable to low or even moderate income persons,” the report states.

Grogan said that outlook is due to Whitefish’s growth. Studying similar resort communities will be critical in determining the town’s future, Grogan said.

“I’m not overly concerned about it, but it’s something we build our programs around,” she said.

Established in 1967, the Whitefish Housing Authority has programs to help people find housing. A board of commissioners, appointed by the city council, governs the housing authority. It also owns and operates the Mountain View Manor, a 50-apartment senior living facility.

Grogan said the report gives the board of commissioners and the public insight into what the authority has been working on. A major priority is trying to help develop the Railway District. The three homes donated by BNSF will be a big part of that and when completed, Grogan hopes to fetch $400 to $700 a month for each rental.

One of the homes just needs a little work before it will be habitable, but the other two may not be usable until sometime in 2013. Although it is a small step, Grogan said the homes in the Railway District are a step in the right direction for the housing authority to meet its goals.

“What I see when I walk in is a home,” she said. “You’re going to have to pull up the carpets and do some scrubbing, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

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