Real Estate

Whitefish Workforce Housing Project to Form Co-op

Residents and local employers make headway with long-term solution for employee housing

By Skye Lucas
Whitefish, Whitefish Lake and the Whitefish River on Sept. 24, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Whitefish Workforce Housing Project (WFWHP) convened on Oct. 6 to outline next steps in the group’s effort to secure and build affordable employee housing. At the meeting, business owners discussed short-term solutions for the upcoming ski season and locals discussed launching a cooperative to establish a long-term framework.

Tracy McIntyre, the executive director of the Montana Cooperative Development Center (MCDC), is assisting WFWHP. As McIntyre guides WFWHP in its decision-making, MCDC is in the process of developing an investing cooperative with employers in Gardiner to address workforce-housing needs that mirror those in Whitefish.

“Many cooperatives have ideas but need help in making those ideas become reality,” McIntyre told WFWHP members. “My role will be to work with your leadership team to develop the goals and objectives then create a defined pathway to begin a project.”

McIntyre previously suggested WFWHP institute a chapter 15 co-op association. This type of co-op would be a corporation-controlled dwelling unit, in which an owner owns stock commensurate with the value of their apartments compared to the value of the building as a whole. With this model, employers own a certain number of shares in the co-op and would be given a proprietary lease for the corresponding units in the building.

Before the co-op is formed, McIntyre asked that WFWHP establish a permanent steering committee of at least three individuals. The committee will be responsible for designing the operations of the co-op, its business plan and bylaws.

On Oct. 6, WFWHP finalized its candidates for the steering committee, who include Nikki Bond of Montana Shirt Co., Ed Docter of the Tap House, Mariah Joos of Nelson’s Ace Hardware, Pat LaTourelle of Hellroaring Restaurant, Malcolm McCracken of Pin & Cue, Doug Rommereim of the Great Northern Bar & Grill, record producer Toby Scott and Jared Zuege of Markus Foods.

WFWHP has already secured a contract for seven acres just outside of downtown Whitefish off Pheasant Run. The property costs $1.8 million and requires a 20% down payment, but the offer, Docter said, expires Sept. 1, 2022.

Since mid-September Docter and Scott rallied fellow members of the business community to voice support at city council meetings for amending the Highway 93 South Corridor Plan to designate the seven-acre county lot either as high-density residential or general commercial to facilitate workforce housing.

Docter and Scott have led WFWHP forums at the Tap House since mid-July and plan to negotiate units for local workers in the coming months through the the Cheap Sleep Motel on U.S. Highway 93 and Mountain Gateway development.

The steering committee members were scheduled to reconvene with McIntyre and an attorney provided by MCDC on Oct. 11 to determine the price of stock offerings and draft a business plan, bylaws and articles of the incorporation.

In addition to McIntyre, there will also be an advisory committee to guide the steering committee’s decision-making during its initial phases. Its current members are former Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Mike Collins and Glacier Bank representative Ryan Porter.

While WFWHP gets its co-op off the ground, it will continue asking residents and second homeowners to consider renting rooms to local employees instead of out-of-towners. 

“We have a small window to save our big character here in Whitefish,” Docter said. “If we don’t house those characters, we will become the next Jackson Hole.”

For more information, email workforcehousingproject@gmail.com or follow Whitefish Workforce Housing Project on Facebook.

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