This year, Dave Bailey and his construction crew of just over two dozen employees at Big Mountain Builders are building eight homes, each hovering around 5,000 square feet for clients with high budgets.
Bailey typically builds high-end single-family homes, many of which are in Whitefish, and he’s building twice as many homes per year as he was before the pandemic began at twice the cost.
But steep prices and long delays caused by supply chain obstacles and skeleton labor crews aren’t stopping clients from seeking his services. The company is booked out for the next few years, and they aren’t currently accepting new clients. Many of his current customers hail from places like Texas, California and Nevada.
“There’s probably 75% from out-of-state,” Bailey said. “I think they still think it’s cheap up here compared to where they were living. It’s all relative.”
According to the annual report from the City of Whitefish’s Planning and Building Department, there was a 32% increase in housing prices within a 12-month period, pushing the median home price to $800,000.
In 2021, Whitefish saw $34 million in construction-related investment and a record number of new single-family building permits, with 129 last year compared to 92 in 2020 and 57 in 2017.
There was only one commercial building permit last year, which Taylor attributes to a limited number of lots available. Stockman’s Bank is currently under construction while Averill Hospitality plans to develop a boutique hotel in downtown Whitefish next year.
While single-family home building spikes, developers are building fewer multi-family units and the total number of residential units dropped from 302 to 220 in 2021.
“There’s a lot of single-family homes and a little less multi-family,” Whitefish Director of Planning and Building David Taylor said.
Whitefish is currently facing a lull in multi-family development, with only 27 permits issued last year compared to 138 permits in 2020 and Taylor says Whitefish’s zoning limits opportunities for multi-family developments, but he expects to see more units in the coming years.
According to the report, affordable housing “continues to be a significant and ever-growing issue in Whitefish,” as locals continue to be priced out of homes. The city’s 2016 Housing Needs Assessment determined the city needed an additional 980 units by 2020 to house the local workforce, including 60% that should be priced affordably. Since 2016, only 21 affordable homes for purchase and 49 affordable rental units were built.
In February, the Whitefish City Council rejected a proposed affordable housing project at the base of Big Mountain Road, the 318-unit Mountain Gateway Development, which would have included 270 apartments, 36 townhouses and 12 condominiums.
While the project would have added much-needed housing to Whitefish, opponents of the project were concerned about the high density, which they say would bring traffic congestion and hazards in the event of an emergency in the area.
On the eastern edge of Whitefish, Trail View subdivision developer Jerry Dunker has been building deed-restricted, single-family homes on 58 lots since 2018. He began listing prices ranging from $290,000 to $310,000 in roughly 1,300 square-foot homes on Monegan Road, but with spiking material and labor prices, the homes are now more than $350,000.
The Whitefish City Council recently approved Dunker’s request to drop the number of deed restricted units from 58 to 48 because he was selling them below cost. Ten homes will now be sold at market rate to make up for high material and labor costs.
Dunker has sold half of the homes at Trail View and construction of all 58 homes will likely be completed in 2024.
At the end of the summer, Whitefish city officials will begin drafting a new growth policy, which was last updated in 2007, and will likely take a few years to complete. Planners will examine which areas in the city are best suitable for development and growth. Taylor says public input indicates a desire for infill away from the rural landscape, but the city is running out of infill locations.
“We’re seeing continued growth,” Taylor said. “We don’t know when it’s going to stop.”
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