In the Flathead Valley, civic leaders struggle with a worsening housing ‘crisis’

Justin Franz Montana Free Press

WHITEFISH — Ed Docter, owner of a bar and ski shop in Whitefish, didn’t think he’d have any problems finding help this summer, even in the midst of a nationwide labor shortage. After all, Montana Tap House and Tamarack Ski Shop offer competitive wages and a fun atmosphere. But reality caught up with Docter in August when he had to cancel his regular lunch service for about a month because he was short-staffed.

Economists say there are a number of reasons for the labor shortages pinching communities across the country, from people being choosier about what they do for work to retirement — but Docter and many others in Whitefish place the blame squarely on a lack of affordable housing. Docter said he personally knows of dozens of people who used to work in Whitefish’s service industries but have left in the last two years because they couldn’t find a place to live. Some have moved to less expensive communities in the Flathead and found jobs there. Others have left the Flathead Valley or Montana altogether.

“Every one of us knows someone who has left Whitefish,” Docter said. “It’s a crisis.”

Docter was a panelist at an

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