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Kalispell’s TIF proposal should be broadened

by Daily Inter Lake
| September 25, 2022 12:00 AM

For the last month, Kalispell City Council has been grappling with a proposal that would allow the city to financially support workforce housing projects.

On Oct. 3, they’ll decide whether to make tax increment financing funds available to such projects that are built for buyers or renters within the 80% to 120% area median income range. In Flathead County, the estimated area median income for a four-person household is $80,300.

The council is hung up on whether that range should be expanded, and whether such an incentive is needed at all, given that the council already wields decision-making power over TIF funds that are intended to address blighted areas in the city.

Let’s start with the latter.

Yes, the council should broaden its TIF guidelines. While it’s true that developers can already request these dollars for assistance with infrastructure needs, under the new proposal they would be allowed to use funds specifically as a way to reduce the cost of the rent.

If the goal is to increase the supply of affordable and workforce housing, why not open up this account to a wider range of possibilities? The cost of construction is often cited as an impediment to building affordable units. Council should remove the infrastructure sideboards to help spur this type of development in the TIF district.

As for the TIF proposal’s area median income range requirement, most of the housing experts that spoke at the Sept. 19 meeting advocated for lowering or eliminating the range entirely.

At the current 80% to 120% range, they said, a typical teacher, nurse or mechanic wouldn’t be able to qualify.

“These are the people who keep the wheels on the bus in this valley,” said Kim Morisaki, with the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust.

Kalispell’s housing needs aren’t exclusive to a single income range. There’s demand for workforce, affordable and low-income units. It makes sense to broaden the TIF proposal’s income requirement so council has the authority to assist a wider scope of housing projects and a more diverse range of residents and income levels.

Approving this proposal won’t fix the housing crisis, but it would be one more tool to use to ensure the wheels stay on as we sort through this period of rapid change and growth.