Sunday, May 19, 2024

Support making resort tax funds available for community housing

| August 27, 2023 12:00 AM

For nearly 30 years, Whitefish residents have reaped the rewards of the city’s resort tax.

The 3% fee on luxury and tourist-related purchases has substantially reduced local homeowner’s property taxes over the decades, while also funding extensive improvements to city infrastructure and public amenities. Since its inception, more than $50 million has been generated for street, trail and utility projects, while more than $15 million in property tax relief has gone back to homeowners.

Resort tax dollars also assisted in securing a conservation easement in Haskill Basin, a shrewd land deal benefiting locals and visitors alike that will be paid off in just a few more years.

With the Haskill payments set to expire in 2025, Whitefish residents will have the option to redirect those dollars to what is arguably the most pressing issue facing the city today — the dearth of available affordable housing.

Earlier this month, the Whitefish City Council voted to approve a ballot initiative to allocate 10% of the resort tax toward affordable housing beginning in February 2025. If approved, it will likely raise some $27 million for affordable housing initiatives by the time it expires.

A recent study showed that the city needs more than 1,310 new housing units by 2023 — 75% of which need to be priced below market rate to meet the needs of the community. There is plenty of work to be done and time is of the essence as essential workers continue to be forced out of the community they call home.

This new resort tax allocation could go toward affordable housing developments, or programs for rental and down payment assistance.

There’s no doubt that Whitefish’s housing crisis is past the tipping point, but the “Community Housing Resort Tax” initiative is a chance to help turn the tide in the right direction. Whitefish voters must support this measure in the upcoming November municipal election.