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Whitefish business leaders discuss critical housing shortage

Housing summit
Posted at 4:31 PM, Apr 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-13 18:31:29-04

WHITEFISH - A total of 125 Whitefish business leaders and community members attended a workforce housing summit Wednesday morning trying to find solutions to fix a major problem in the community.

“It’s gotten worse in the last year, but it’s been an ongoing problem probably for the last 20 years,” Whitefish business owner Pat Carloss told MTN News.

Business leaders and community members joined together to address what many believe is the number one issue facing the business community in Whitefish — a critical shortage of affordable housing.

“The big issue is in my mind, middle income, you know management type people that want to raise families here, that is the issue that we’re talking about, that’s where we could lose the character of the town,” said Carloss.

Carloss spoke during a panel discussion regarding business owners actively investing in housing for their workforce. He owns two popular restaurants in Whitefish — Tupelo Grille and Abruzzo Italian Kitchen — which employ more than 100 employees.

He has invested in dorm-room like housing for his seasonal employees, charging $600 a bed, a short-term fix on a long-term problem.

“It’s a band aid on a problem because it only really works for short term because it’s four beds to a room, it’s literally a dorm, but it works for kids who’re willing to come here and work for the summer,” said Carloss.

Montana Tap House and Tamarack Ski and Lake Shop owner Ed Docter employs 30 workers between his two businesses. Thanks to community connections, Docter is able to rent a few homes and bedrooms at a discounted rate to roughly one-third of his workforce.

He says he throws 5% of his gross income back into affordable housing for his employees so he can keep his doors open.

“Fortunately, I don’t have kids I’m putting through college, I don’t have any major expenses so I’m able to do it, but that’s me, not many people are 50 years old and just with a girlfriend and no family so, I can do that,” said Docter.

Housing Whitefish, a newly formed non-profit works, alongside the Whitefish Housing Authority to streamline fundraising efforts for potential affordable housing projects. Board member Addie Brown said the non-profit is working hard to find solutions.

“Looking at land banking, finding land, that’s one of the biggest problems, it’s where do we find the land, how do we get the land, banking that land until we’re able to raise enough funds to develop it,” said Brown.

Docter said it will take a total team effort between private business owners, community leaders and the City of Whitefish to address the problem.

“We have employers that are worth billions of dollars and employers that are worth hundreds of dollars, and we want all of them to stay in business, you know we want them to help this community thrive you know, and there is money in the community we just got to figure out how to do it,” said Docter.