This year, Dave Bailey and his construction crew of just over two dozen employees at Big Mountain Builders are building eight homes, each about 5,000 square feet for clients with big budgets.
Bailey typically builds high-end single-family homes, many of which are in Whitefish, and he’s building twice as many homes a year as before the pandemic began, at twice the cost.
But high prices and long delays caused by supply chain hurdles and skeletal work teams don’t stop clients from seeking its services. The business is booked for the next few years and is not currently accepting new clients. Many of his current clients come from places like Texas, California and Nevada.
“It’s probably 75% from out of state,” Bailey said. “I think they still think it’s cheap here compared to where they used to live. All is relative.”
According to the Town of Whitefish Planning and Building Department’s annual report, there was a 32% increase in housing prices over a 12-month period, pushing the median home price to $800,000.
In 2021, Whitefish saw $34 million in construction-related investment and a record number of new single-family building permits, with 129 last year compared to 92 in 2020 and 57 in 2017.
There was only one commercial building permit last year, which Taylor attributes to a limited number of available lots. Stockman’s Bank is currently under construction while Averill Hospitality plans to develop a boutique hotel in downtown Whitefish next year.
As single-family home construction increases, developers are building fewer multi-family units and the total number of residential units has fallen from 302 to 220 in 2021.
“There are a lot of single-family homes and a little less multi-family homes,” Whitefish planning and construction manager David Taylor said.
Whitefish is currently facing a lull in multi-family development, with just 27 permits issued last year compared to 138 permits in 2020 and Taylor says Whitefish’s zoning limits multi-family development opportunities, but he expects to see more units in the years to come.
According to the report, affordable housing “continues to be a significant and growing issue in Whitefish,” as residents continue to see homes sold. The city’s 2016 Housing Needs Assessment determined that the city needed an additional 980 units by 2020 to house the local workforce, 60% of which should be affordably priced. Since 2016, only 21 affordable housing units for purchase and 49 affordable rental units have been built.
In February, Whitefish City Council rejected a proposed affordable housing project at the foot of Big Mountain Road, the 318-unit Mountain Gateway Development, which would have included 270 apartments, 36 townhouses and 12 condominiums.
While the project would have added much-needed housing to Whitefish, opponents of the project were concerned about the high density, which they said would lead to traffic congestion and emergency hazards in the area.
On the east end of Whitefish, Trail View subdivision developer Jerry Dunker has been building restricted-deed single-family homes on 58 lots since 2018. But with soaring prices for materials and labor, homes now cost over $350,000.
Whitefish City Council recently approved Dunker’s request to reduce the number of restricted stock units from 58 to 48 because he was selling them below cost. Ten homes will now be sold at market price to offset high material and labor costs.
Dunker has sold half of the homes in Trail View, and construction of all 58 homes will likely be completed in 2024.
At the end of the summer, Whitefish town officials will begin drafting a new growth policy, which was last updated in 2007, and will likely take a few years to complete. City planners will consider which areas of the city are best suited for development and growth. Taylor says the public input indicates a desire for filler away from the rural landscape, but the city lacks filler locations.
“We are seeing continued growth,” Taylor said. “We don’t know when it’s going to stop.”