Addressing the Affordable Housing Crisis

The term “affordable housing” has become a hot topic around Whitefish

By Tom Tornow

The small-town charm and community “feel” we enjoy here in Whitefish are significant assets to business and economic development. Our values and character set Whitefish apart from other mountain towns. They are, in part, created by the workforce that has stood as our community’s backbone since the early 1900s. The soul of Whitefish is identified by its inhabitants. Culturally, every community needs a broad base of citizens to be a viable, stable and dynamic entity. Without these elements, we lose our partnerships, jobs, and authenticity … we lose our sense of community.

Each worker in Whitefish is a valuable stitch in the fabric of our intricate and tightly woven community. When individuals feel they can invest and build roots within a community, the economic and intrinsic values increase. People invest back into the community and become active participants in the vibrant culture that makes Whitefish so renowned. This is a key to our town’s charm and appeal.

The term “affordable housing” has become a hot topic around Whitefish. Some facet of this issue has found its way into the everyday conversations of local business owners, city officials, non-profits and concerned citizens. In response to this concern, Montana West Economic Development, the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce and the City of Whitefish held an Affordable Workforce Summit last fall. Emerging from the summit were two main points. First, there is an affordable workforce housing crisis in Whitefish. Secondly, further investigation and leadership is needed to address housing issues in Whitefish.

The Affordable Workforce Housing Task Force – a broad-based coalition of individuals, business owners and civic leaders – sprang from the summit, and is investigating ways to tackle the workforce housing shortage which has been languishing in our community. The first step is to determine the exact nature of the housing problem. As such, a Housing Needs Assessment will be conducted in order to study and quantify the affordable housing shortage through hard data. The assessment will support future efforts to craft solutions to the problem. In addition, it will give other local organizations the information needed to apply for grants for other affordable housing efforts.

The question is: why should you care about affordable housing?

The concepts surrounding affordable housing can be hard to understand, and the definition of “affordable” varies depending upon income levels and disposable capital. Affordable workforce housing in Whitefish can be most simply defined as: “Affordable housing, for rent or purchase, for the working people of our community”.

This includes the most integral members of our community: teachers, firefighters, health care professionals, business owners and the service industry … just for starters. These individuals are not only essential to the economic and social viability of our town, but they also embody the very characteristics that uniquely define Whitefish.

If we, as a community, are not investing to help ensure the future of our community, we are not investing wisely for Whitefish.

Tom Tornow, chairman
Whitefish Affordable Workforce Housing Task Force