WHITEFISH - Whitefish, as we all know, is a town that is reliant on tourists and the service industry.
But with limited affordable housing, it is getting harder for the people who work in Whitefish to live in Whitefish. There is a new nonprofit helping to advocate for these people.
“For me, my goal was always to come back to Montana and come back to a place that I always considered home and loved. So I was finally able to make it back here and found that even with a really good job and quite a bit of education behind me, I couldn't afford to live in Whitefish," said Shelter WF Secretary and co-founder Ellie McMann.
Shelter WF is a new nonprofit that is advocating for equity in the housing market in Whitefish. They are trying to make it possible for people who work in Whitefish to live in Whitefish. The idea sprouted when co-founder Nathan Dugan attended city council meetings and saw that something wasn’t quite right.
“The people in the room are not necessarily representative of the entire community. We never really saw like a service worker or anybody that might benefit from the housing in the room speaking for it or against it," said Dugan.
The main goal of Shelter WF is to give citizens resources and education to make the city government process easier to understand. They are giving people the tools they need to submit comments to the city and hopefully get some housing proposals passed that would make it easier for people to afford housing.
“That's kind of why we formed is to make the process, city government process a lot easier to understand for people so they know what's going on so they can participate," said Dugan.
A lot of the people on the board for Shelter WF are people who were raised in Whitefish and are trying to move back to the place they love to raise their families.
“Coming back and finding that it's no longer a place that I can afford to live and it's not necessarily going to be the town that in the community where I can raise my kids has really been a place of grief, but I'm hoping that through this organization, we can change that a little bit and make it a place where anyone who wants to live here can live here," said McMann.
Whitefish is a tourist town and relies heavily on the service industry. Leanette Galaz works in the service industry in Whitefish, after a career change, and has seen firsthand the struggle that the local working community faces.
“Nothing was adding up like it was like How can these people who are working so hard I see them not able to afford to live," said Galaz, Shelter WF Board Member.
The short-term goal for Shelter WF is to advocate for attainable rental homes. While the long-term goal is for affordable ownership opportunities for people who earn average or below average wages. Although the efforts of this group are still new, they are sparked by real stories of people that have been pushed out of their community.
“I realized that so many of the people that I loved both family friends, longtime locals that I grew up with that were beginning to be priced out. And so I was just really angry. And through that anger it really motivated me to get involved," said Mallory Phillips, Shelter WF Co-founder.
For more information or to get involved please visit https://www.shelterwf.org/.