Steering Committee Reviews Draft Roadmap as Whitefish Housing Refresh Continues

A draft of the roadmap is available on the city’s website, and the goal is to have an updated version online by Nov. 14

By Mike Kordenbrock
Whitefish City Hall on May 20, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A recent meeting of the Whitefish Strategic Housing Steering Committee provided another opportunity to provide feedback on a draft roadmap document intended to guide the city as it seeks to improve housing opportunities for people struggling amid the community’s housing crisis.  

The steering committee—which consists of city staff, city councilors, nonprofit leaders, business owners, and others—met in mid-September for what was then believed to be the final time, but ultimately the city opted to hold another meeting on Oct. 25 involving the committee and Seana Doherty, a consultant with Agnew Beck, who has worked on developing the 2022 Whitefish Community Housing Roadmap. The draft of the roadmap was published online in late October.

The goal is for an updated roadmap to be published online by Nov. 14, with the city council then reviewing and potentially approving the document at its Nov. 21 meeting.

The process of developing the new roadmap is part of what’s been termed the Whitefish Housing Refresh 2022. The city has pointed to the intensification and evolution of its long-term housing challenge as the impetus for the Refresh.

The roadmap is a nonbinding document that incorporates parts of the city’s 2017 strategic housing plan, but differentiates itself in a number of ways, including by outlining a framework for developing and expanding partnerships, including with community members, to help the city enact solutions. As described in the actual draft of the roadmap, the document also “strengthens core components of the existing housing program to increase existing capacity to implement and manage outcomes” and also updates recommended strategies and provides recommendations on prioritizing those strategies.

A community housing needs assessment report put together by WSW Consulting and Agnew Beck Consulting was published last summer. The report showed that from 2016 to 2021 the city exceeded its goals with the production of new housing units, but that the housing was almost entirely too expensive for the city’s needs.

 As is noted in the roadmap draft, “to address the current housing shortfall and keep up with future job growth, at least 75% of the 1,310 homes needed to support locals residents and employees by 2030 in the Whitefish Area will need to be priced below market value.” Just 76 units of housing priced below market rate were built in Whitefish from 2016 through 2021, and only 41 more are expected to become available by 2025.

Other objectives outlined in the roadmap include stabilizing the community’s makeup of owners and renters at 35% renters and 65% home ownership.

Broadly, the strategies the city is advised to prioritize include activating public and private development, securing funding for community housing, implementing policies to support community housing, and implementing new community housing programs. The city and the housing authority are expected to take the lead role on most of those strategies, and the roadmap also advises the city increase its staff for community housing-related work.

For activating public and private development, the priority actions include creating a community housing development plan, and working on public and private institutional development partnerships, as well as creating a pipeline of land partnership opportunities in anticipation of future projects.

Actions for securing funding for community housing include creating a financing plan, allocating taxes dedicated to community housing either through a mill levy or resort taxes, pursuing federal and state grants and loans, soliciting private donations and philanthropy, and working on debt financing on favorable terms.

For implementing policies to support community housing, the roadmap recommends updating the city growth policy, working on short-term rental regulations, negotiating restricted community housing as part of annexation agreements, exploring a no net loss policy that would require replacement of housing occupied by residents or local workforce members when redevelopment occurs, improving incentives for community housing, adjusting zoning policies to improve affordability, and offer a “light” deed restriction option applicable to the higher end of the community housing market in order to help ensure local occupancy. For implementing new community housing programs the roadmap advises actions including developing a short-term rental or second home conversion program, improving homebuyer assistance options, improving tenant rent assistances, protections and education, and work on developing and improving employer assisted housing and partnerships.