By Margo Magnant EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – After series of blows to the affordable housing effort in Big Sky, the newly available down payment assistance program can now alleviate some of the challenges for those looking to purchase housing in the community.

The Big Sky Community Housing Trust was formed in 2016 and has held monthly advisory council meetings since mid-2017. During that timeframe, Gallatin County commissioners denied approval of affordable housing projects proposed by developers of the Bough Big Sky Community and Powder Light subdivisions, for various reasons.

The BSCHT advisory council sees down payment assistance as an important interim solution to the financial roadblocks many working residents confront when it comes to buying a home in Big Sky.

“The biggest barrier is the down payment,” said Brian Guyer, HRDC community development manager and a guiding member of the BSCHT advisory council. “Scraping together $30,000 is not an easy task for many people working and living in Big Sky.”

Guyer said that many people seeking ownership are paying rents in excess of what a mortgage payment would be on the same property.

The program, known as HOME, is a federal program that has only recently become available in the Big Sky area thanks to the efforts of Guyer and the BSCHT. The financial assistance will act as a second mortgage for approved parties, and the costs associated with it will be rolled into a single mortgage payment.

For those interested in benefiting from the program, the first step is taking the Homebuyer Education Course offered by HRDC, a prerequisite for consideration. The next course will be held from 5-9 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, and Wednesday, March 7, at Buck’s T-4 Lodge. Contact HRDC housing counselor Roselle Shallah at (406) 585-4895 to register.

A second requirement is having a one-on-one session with a housing counselor. Shallah will be available for appointments in Big Sky on March 6 and 7, in conjunction with the course.

Guyer said the eight-hour course is intense, but “the process [of home ownership] becomes a whole lot less daunting when you know what you’re getting into.”

This program is intended as a trial for a locally based fund that would be managed by the BSCHT with the help of local donors for the same benefit.

A potential difference between the currently available federal program and a Big Sky-specific option is increased flexibility in terms of qualifying incomes and properties that more accurately reflect the average home price in Big Sky. The current cap on properties that qualify is $272,000 for the federal program.

“The down payment assistance program will be a valuable tool for locals looking to invest in home ownership in Big Sky,” explained Brian Hurlbut, executive director of the Arts Council of Big Sky and a BCHT board member. “It has the potential to be a game changer when it comes to providing families with an affordable path toward home ownership.”