Whitefish Workforce Assistance Program Gets Off the Ground With First Round of Payments

Applicants, on average, shared that they had moved 1.5 times in the last three years, and 60% of applicants said they were at risk of leaving Flathead County due to lack of affordability or an inability to pay rent

By Mike Kordenbrock
A rental sign in front of the Whitefish Crossing apartments on June 22, 2017. Beacon file photo

The first payments have been issued from Housing Whitefish’s newly established Whitefish Workforce Assistance Program, which is intended as a temporary measure to help qualifying people reduce their monthly rental payments and remain in Whitefish while work continues on more long-term housing solutions. The Whitefish program is based on a similar program in Winter Park, Colo. that has been in place since 2017.

Housing Whitefish, a nonprofit which works with the Whitefish Housing Authority, shared in an April 4 press release that 37 people applied for the new rental assistance program during its first application cycle and that 17 applications were approved. Of those approved, the average amount of payments, which go directly to landlords, comes out to $317 a month.

Among the criteria for eligibility is that a person make under 100% of the area median income, that they pay more than 30% of their income towards rent, and that they work an average of 32 hours a week or 1,600 hours a year in a job located in the 59937 Whitefish zip code, and either currently live in Whitefish or are looking to move to Whitefish. Those criteria are slightly different in the case of a single parent, in which case a person is required to work 20 hours a week or 1,000 hours a year. New residents can be considered with a letter from their employer, and consideration will also be given to people who work outside the 59937 area code but in a capacity that predominantly serves Whitefish residents.

Absent a change in housing for approved applicants or the approval of additional applicants, Housing Whitefish said it will pay out $5,385 per month over the next year for a total of about $64,620. There are plans for three more application cycles this year, which will open in June, September and December.

For the first round of applications, the 20 applicants who were not approved either paid less than 30% of their income in rent, made over the area median income, or failed to meet Whitefish residency requirements, according to the Housing Whitefish press release.

The release also shared some additional insights from this first application and approval cycle, including that 14 single parents applied for assistance, and that the average rent from applicants is $1,413.61, with only eight of those applicants saying that utilities were included in their rent price.

Further, the first round of applicants had an average age of 36, and 62 percent are female. On average, applicants shared that they had moved 1.5 times in the last three years. Nearly 60 percent of applicants said they were at risk of moving from Flathead County due to lack of affordability or an inability to pay rent.

The Whitefish City Council voted unanimously in December 2023 to provide $200,000 in funding for the pilot program from the city’s affordable housing fund. The Whitefish Chamber of Commerce ($25,000), Explore Whitefish ($25,000) and the Foley Family Charitable Foundation ($30,000) have also committed to helping fund the program in its first year.