A broader range of individuals should be the beneficiaries of a proposal that would set the stage for using certain city funds for workforce housing projects, experts told Kalispell City Council on Monday night.
Cassidy Kipp, deputy director of Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana, told City Council that a housing needs assessment would better define the need while noting that many workers in the community, including a first year teacher, would not qualify for it because they make less than the targeted income range.
“There is no denying that we have a housing need in this community,” she said. “It’s cavalier not to focus on what is happening with our housing market and to just throw money in a direction that we think might be helpful. We need to know what our baseline is to measure our successes.”
A proposal being considered by the City Council would make tax increment financing (TIF) funds available to projects with workforce housing for those in the 80% to 120% or area median income or AMI range. In Flathead County, the estimated area median income for a four-person household is $80,300.
City Council is set to vote on the proposal on Oct. 3.
Elizabeth Langley, with the Kalispell School District’s Heart Locker, which provides assistance for students struggling with homelessness, said the families she works with would not qualify for housing that may come from the program because they make less than the range.
“I have a family with two parents and three children who are living in a car and both parents are working,” she said. “They’ve been pushed out of the rental market, but would qualify for this. These are the families that need to be included in that. These are the families who live here in our communities and they are the families that we want to keep here.”
To be considered at 80% AMI, a four-person household would need to earn $63,500. To be at 120% AMI, the household would be earning $95,300.
State law already allows for TIF funds to be used for workforce housing, but the proposal before Council would call it out as a specific use and could place income parameters on individuals who would qualify for the housing.
Kim Morasaki, with the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust, which has since 2012 helped 50 low- and moderate-income families purchase homes through the trust program, also told Council that most of the households they serve would not make enough to qualify.
“My wait list is teachers, people who work in nonprofits, county, city, office administrators, mechanics, grocery store managers,” she said. “These are the people who keep the wheels on the bus in this valley.”
SEVERAL COMMUNITY members also shared personal experiences with looking for housing, saying that a lack of housing at a range of prices is an ongoing crisis.
Ellie Suda, who works at the Kalispell Grand Hotel, said she continuously worries about housing after her rent increased $500 in the last two years.
“It’s just a matter of time before I won’t be able to live here and I grew up here,” she said. “I brought my kids here to grow up and it’s really stressful to maintain any kind of job and have housing right now.”
Her son, who just turned 18 and is a fifth generation Montana resident, is looking at moving away because of the cost of housing.
“To think that he is going to leave the state and raise his family elsewhere breaks my heart,” she said. “If we don’t have workforce housing you will not have workers for your tourist town. People are moving because they can’t afford to live here.”
Mandy Gerth told Council that she also wouldn’t qualify for housing as part of the program since she makes 48% AMI like many of her fellow workers.
“I’m part of the workforce,” she said. “I spent two years even trying to find a job that makes $40,000. Based on affordability guidelines I would need to spend $900 per month on housing – good luck finding that in Kalispell.”
A retired nurse, Betty DeHoop said she knows physicians and nurses who want to come to the Flathead Valley to work, but can’t find housing.
“They are taking what’s maybe more affordable to other people because there is nothing for housing,” she said. “There’s no housing for anyone.”
Jamie Quinn, executive director of the Flathead Food Bank, said that in her own recent effort to secure rental housing she found a place for rent at $1,700 per month that had no heat in the bathroom and the tiles had been removed from the shower.
“We cannot house anybody in this room if they lose housing and we cannot house you,” she said pointing to Council members. “I think Montana values is being good neighbors and housing everyone and we all need to come together and do that.”
During previous discussions, Council appeared split on the matter with several wanting more flexibility in the program’s income guidelines and others saying the change is unnecessary because developers can already apply for TIF funds for infrastructure costs.
Kalispell is looking at updating two of its urban renewal plans – the Downtown Urban Renewal Plan and the West Side/Core Area Urban Renewal Plan – to allow for TIF funds to go towards housing projects. Developers could apply for funds to assist with workforce housing.
Currently, a developer could ask the city for TIF funds to be directed to the infrastructure costs of a project, which some argue would then lower the overall price tag, resulting in reduced housing costs. The proposed changes would allow a developer to apply for TIF funds specifically as a way to reduce the cost of the rent.
Features Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.