Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Fallout from Outlaw closure still deserves review

by Daily Inter Lake
| November 24, 2022 12:00 AM

When approximately 100 people were displaced last winter by the abrupt closure of the extended-stay annex at FairBridge Inn and Suites in Kalispell, many were left with few, if any, options for housing. Living in a car or on the street in the dead of winter was a real possibility for many of these people — a dangerous scenario no one should have to face.

Thankfully, due to the emergency housing resources available locally, some of the displaced residents were able to secure a safe and warm living situation.

One of those families spoke with Inter Lake reporter Adrian Knowler for today’s front page story. Joan Corbin and her daughter Michaela were accepted by the Samaritan House in Kalispell.

The Corbins hoped to secure a more permanent living situation, but the harsh economic realities of Montana’s housing crisis proved to be an insurmountable roadblock.

For the last six months they have been living at an apartment operated by the Samaritan House, an option that they call “a blessing.”

Unfortunately, not everyone who resided at the Outlaw was fortunate enough to secure housing and many were forced to leave the valley.

The immediate aftermath of the Outlaw’s closure prompted ample public outcry and City Council discussion. How could the city ignore the human impact of the hotel’s closure in issuing the project permit? What could be done to prevent this from happening again?

“What are these folks to do? Where is our compassion as a community?” one community member asked the council.

Yet, since those questions were raised 10 months ago, it’s been radio silence from the city.

According to Mayor Mark Johnson, the council has not enacted any policy — or even held discussions — on how to mitigate the impact on future sales involving residents in similar living arrangements.

“We haven’t looked at it,” Johnson told the Inter Lake, adding that he believes any regulatory teeth — such as requiring developers to submit a relocation plan as part of the permit approval process — would have to come from the state level.

This discussion is too important to sweep away or let die on the vine without further review.

With the 2023 legislative session ramping up in a month, now is a prime time for city officials and state representatives to give new consideration to policy changes or other regulatory solutions to prevent a situation like the Outlaw closure from happening again.

The consequences of doing nothing are too dire to ignore.

AS WE gather this Thanksgiving to share gratitudes with family and friends, let’s not forget about the local organizations that filled the gap for displaced families like the Corbins. The Samaritan House, the Flathead Warming Center, Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana and the valley’s network of food pantries are among the many groups that provide an essential safety net for those who have fallen on hard times. Without these organizations, the fallout from the Outlaw closure would have been much worse. Let’s be sure they continue to receive the support they need to thrive.

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