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To Address Housing Shortage, Program in Big Sky Pays Property Owners to Rent To Local Workers

Resort residencies in Big Sky, Montana, 2006.
Jim (CC-By-SA-2.0)

Big Sky, like other Mountain West resort areas, is struggling to provide affordable housing. A nonprofit housing trust is paying vacation homeowners to rent their properties to local workers to address the shortage.

On August 1, the Big Sky Community Housing Trust’s Rent Local program began offering homeowners incentives of up to $14,500 to rent to locals. Since then, the program has helped facilitate the signing of five leases.

“There’s a variety of folks. One was a title agent. Some work in restaurants,” says Laura Seyfang, the housing trust’s executive director.

Seyfang says by pairing cash incentives, which vary by lease length, with property management services the program wants to make it more attractive for home and condo owners to rent long-term to locals instead of the short-term vacation rental market. The idea came from her prior experience owning a Big Sky vacation property from afar.

“I approached it from the perspective I had as an owner of a unit, ‘Well, take away all my excuses. Help me find local people who would be great people to rent to,’” Seyfang says.

Housing costs in Big Sky have ballooned. According to the Gallatin Association of Realtors, the average median sales price for a single-family home went up 30% in the past year to $2.3 million. Data from the National Association of Realtorsindicates that the cost of single-family homes, nationwide, increased by around 19%.

Seyfang says the nonprofit housing trust, which is also involved with building units in Big Sky, currently has a waitlist of 200 people.

“I would say I average 2-3 calls every single day from people who are just desperate for housing,” Seyfang says.

The rent to locals program aims to add 100 units to the Big Sky inventory by 2023. Seyfang says the program, currently funded by the resort tax and the Spanish Peaks Community Foundation, has enough funds right now to add approximately 10 more leases.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.