Whitefish Council Votes to Help Fund Land Trust’s Purchase of Additional Homes for Affordable Housing

The Northwest Montana Community Land Trust’s strategy for selling homes below market rate involves purchasing the land beneath the home, putting it in a trust, and then selling the home itself to buyers

By Mike Kordenbrock
The Trailview housing development in Whitefish on Feb. 16, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Whitefish City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a request from the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust (NWMTCLT) for $90,000 in funding to help with the purchase of three homes in the Trail View development at the corner of Monegan Road and Voerman Road.

The funding, which will come from the city’s Affordable Housing Fund, will go toward the $260,000 fundraising goal that NWMTCLT has set to purchase the trio of dwellings, which the organization intends to deed restrict for affordability and sell below market rate.

The land trust’s strategy for selling the homes below market rate involves purchasing the land beneath homes, and then selling the actual home. It’s an approach that the land trust already undertook in Trail View in November 2023, when it purchased land under two homes in the development and offered them for sale at below market prices. The sale of the additional Trail View homes it intends to purchase would be offered to people making between 80% and 120% of the area median income, according to NWMTCLT.

Ahead of the council’s vote, Councilor Ben Davis thanked Kim Morisaki, the NWMTCLT’s executive director, and told her that he would love for her to bring more of these types of proposals to the city.

“On a per unit basis this is a great way to do affordable housing. We are spending $30,000 per unit, and we’re leveraging additional funds out of the land trust,” Davis said. “If you compare that, for example, with something like the Snow Lot, it takes a lot more money to do it that way. So I think that this is a good thing, I’m glad to see it.”

In a letter sent to the city last month, Morisaki described her intentions to combine private donations, grants, municipal funds, and possibly state or federal funds in order to sell homes in the neighborhood to people “who make up the Whitefish workforce but are below 120% AMI (area median income).” In the same letter, Morisaki said that her organization’s goal is to complete fundraising by May 2024, and that it has identified sources for the entire amount, with the expectation that those funds are committed in March and April of this year.

Of the three homes, one is being resold, and two others are still under construction, but are expected to be completed in May. The resale home was constructed in 2020, and is 1,300 square feet, with two bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, and a two-car garage. One of the homes under construction is of an identical model to the resale home, while the other home under construction is 1,000 square feet and features two bedrooms, one bathroom and an oversized two-car garage.

 The market rate value for homes in Trail View that aren’t deed-restricted is over $600,000, per the land trust. The three homes in question, on average, cost $396,000 when offered at a deed-restricted price, but that average price falls to about $310,000 when the land is bought by the land trust. Using Home Buyers Assistance funds from the state for people making below 80% of the area median income, two of the homes could be sold for $205,000 and $175,000.  

In his presentation to the council Monday night, Luke Sponable, the city’s housing coordinator, said that staff recommended approval, given that it increases the affordability of the homes and allows people at a lower percentage of the area median income to buy property in Whitefish at a good location. Sponable also noted that in light of other allocations of funding from the city’s affordable housing fund, this would leave roughly $9,000 remaining in the fund for the fiscal year, but he said that City Manager Dana Smith had expressed comfort with that balance.

The Trail View development, when it was originally approved in 2018, involved 58 single family homes, with all being deed-restricted for local workers, and the sale price under the control of the Whitefish Housing Authority or the City Housing Coordinator. A staff report submitted to the council ahead of Monday night’s meeting referred to Trail View as the city’s “most significant affordable housing development to date.”