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Housing assistance program focus of Whitefish City Council work session

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | September 18, 2023 12:00 AM

A nonprofit organization in Whitefish is planning to start a workforce housing assistance program, and seeking participation and financial support from the city of Whitefish.

Housing Whitefish will present its plans for the Whitefish Workforce Assistance Fund during a City Council work session on Monday at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

The regular meeting begins at 7:10 p.m. It’s a light agenda for Council with no public hearings scheduled for the night.

At the work session, Daniel Sidder, executive director for Housing Whitefish, is set to present Council with details regarding the assistance fund. The organization is looking to partner with the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, the Whitefish Housing Authority and the city to create the fund it hopes to launch in January 2024.

“The goal of the Whitefish Workforce Assistance Fund is simple: to help full-time employees successfully live and work in the Whitefish area by providing rental assistance,” Sidder said in a memo to Council. “The fund is aimed at helping our workforce retain housing and get into new rental units. This fund is not for emergency housing needs, utility payment aid, or relocation services.”

Housing Whitefish is asking the city to contribute $200,000 to begin the fund and commit to funding for two subsequent years. It expects to raise an additional $100,000 to fund the program in its first year.

Applicants would be able to apply for monthly rental assistance to bridge the affordability gap with the goal of decreasing the cost burden for renters.

Priority would be given to households with at least one household member who is employed in Whitefish, then to those with members employed within the 59937 ZIP code, and finally to those with employment outside the 59937 ZIP code.

To qualify, applicants would have to make under 120% of the area median income and pay more than 30% of their income toward rent. They would have to work an average of 32 hours per week in a job located in the Whitefish ZIP code and live in Whitefish or looking to move to Whitefish to be closer to work or to accept a job.

The program would cap assistance at $4,800 per year with payments not to exceed 25% of rent or pushing them to pay under 30% of their income on rent.

As an example, an individual paying $1,300 per month for rent would qualify. At 30% of their income at $41,230 per year, they should be paying $1,031 per month. The applicant would be eligible to receive $269 per month paid directly to their housing provider to bring their rent down to 30% of income rather than 38%.

The program is modeled on the Winter Park Housing Assistance Fund in Winter Park, Colorado.

The 2022 Whitefish Housing Needs Assessment noted that wages are not keeping pace with rent and home prices, and job growth and housing development are not aligned.

“We don’t see this program as a long-term solution to our housing challenges in Whitefish,” Sidder said. “We do, however, see this as a shorter-term program that can assist our workforce while more affordable housing units are built.”

Features Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com.