Suggests building 18 units

By Joseph T. O’Connor EBS Managing Editor

BIG SKY – A group of state, regional and local entities hosted more than 100 community members at a town hall-style meeting on Oct. 22 to address what many feel is the preeminent issue in Big Sky: affordable housing.

Held at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, the group consisted of the Montana Department of Commerce, Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, Human Resources Development Council, and representatives from two Bozeman-based engineering firms.

The group exhibited a Preliminary Architectural Report – a planning effort rather than a design effort, according to presenters – funded in part by a Community Development Block Grant from the Montana Department of Commerce.

Using information from a 2014 study performed by the consulting firm Economics and Planning Systems based in Colorado, presenters indicated that 83 percent of Big Sky’s workforce commutes from areas including Bozeman, Belgrade, Gallatin Gateway and West Yellowstone.

Talent recruitment is the No. 1 issue facing Big Sky employers, according to Big Sky Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kitty Clemens.

“When 83 percent of our payroll [and] brainpower leaves town every night, that’s not a good economic development model,” Clemens said.

Workers who do live in Big Sky face a massive shortage of housing inventory, and Tracy Menuez, community development director with the HRDC, indicated that young professionals won’t stick around unless the housing crisis is sorted.

“If [Big Sky] can’t provide housing options, [you’re] at risk of losing them as community members,” Menuez said at the meeting.

The presentation included statistics showing Big Sky is approximately 1,300 units short of the demand for affordable housing. The report suggested that building 18 condos behind the Big Sky Community Park’s tennis courts will help.

A nearly $6.5 million price tag hangs on the project.

Tract 2 of the Sweetgrass Hills subdivision scored the highest of the eight properties the presenters deemed feasible, based on criteria including zoning, price per acre, property size and access to public water and sewer services, among others factors.

Bozeman-based architectural firm Comma Q subcontracted consultants from the engineering firms Stahly Engineering and Associates, as well as Morrison-Maierle to perform the PAR. The consultants suggested the preferred option would be to build 18 condos on the 4.14-acre parcel.

Each unit would be 1,300 square feet, and target cost to the buyer would be approximately $190,000, according to Greg Benjamin, a professional engineer and vice president of Stahly who helped deliver the PAR.

According to the presentation, 82 percent of workers in Big Sky earn less than $40,000 annually. The area’s median income is approximately $60,000, according to the final report presented by EPS in July 2014.

For housing to be considered affordable, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development states that a family should not pay more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing.

“Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened, and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing transportation and medical care,” according to HUD’s website.

At HUD’s suggested affordability of 30 percent of AMI, the average Big Sky resident could afford to pay $18,000 per year on housing. In the last year, the median selling price for a single-family home in the greater Big Sky area, according to the Gallatin Association of Realtors, was $1.06 million.

The “housing team,” as the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce dubbed this collaboration, will present the same report to Gallatin County Commissioners on Nov. 10.