By Bay Stephens EBS LOCAL EDITOR
BIG SKY – The Big Sky Community Housing Trust held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 30 for the Meadowview Condominiums, Big Sky’s first deed-restricted workforce housing.
Representatives from the housing trust, Big Sky Resort Area District tax board, Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, HRDC and Gallatin County Commission spoke in front of a Meadowview duplex drawing closer to completion.
“You guys have a lot to be proud of here,” said county commissioner Don Seifert. “One of the goals of government is at the best to offer up opportunities; at the worst is not to stifle opportunities.”
Once completed, the Meadowview subdivision will offer 52 subsidized units to a waiting list of over 60 qualified applicants.
Twelve of the buildings will be comprised of a 352-square-foot studio and 1,000-square-foot two-bedroom condo overlooking the Big Sky Community Park baseball fields. Phase one also includes six duplexes with 1,000 square feet. Every unit will have its own garage.
The first units will be ready for owners to move in mid-June, according to Laura Seyfang, program director for the Big Sky Community Housing Trust. Seyfang expects Phase 1 to be complete by the end of August and Phase 2 to be finished in the first quarter of 2020.
The units were subsidized by a $1.75 million appropriation from the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board in 2018, which bought the land for the developments. Consequently, the units can be sold for significantly less than market value, offering an opportunity to purchase for workers earning less than the average median income of Gallatin County, which is $69,600 for a household of two.
Laurel Blessley is one such resident of Big Sky. She moved to the area in 1999 and has worked as a lift mechanic for Big Sky Resort the past 16 years.
Blessley rented at the base of the mountain and in the meadow and said she’s been lucky that none her landlords were interested in selling her rental out from under her, or putting it on the short-term rental market, something that’s happened to many of her friends. She and her partner have a 5-year-old daughter and are ready to own in Big Sky.
Meadowview gives them a chance. Currently, she is on the waitlist for a unit in the complex.
“I’d like my daughter to go to Ophir [Elementary School],” Blessley said. “And this is the only option for us to buy.”
Jamey Cunningham, who has served, bartended and managed restaurants throughout Big Sky, is also on the waitlist with her husband and their 3-year-old son. Since the market priced them out in recent years, a Meadowview unit is their only hope for continuing to live in Big Sky instead of commuting from the Gallatin Valley.
“We should have bought a couple years ago and now we can’t afford anything else,” Cunningham said. “This will be our foot in the door.”
Cunningham, Blessley and others looking to buy a Meadowview unit were required to go through an application process involving eight hours of homebuyer education courses as well as financial counseling with the HRDC. Eligible applicants were then added to the waiting list in order of first come, first served with the opportunity to buy.
The process leading to the realization of the Meadowview condos started when the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce had a study on the workforce housing shortage conducted. An action plan for housing resulted, calling for nearly 500 units of more attainable housing to effectively address the shortage in Big Sky. The housing trust was handed from the chamber to HRDC, which bought the land with resort tax funds.
The deed-restricted units will remain affordable compared to Big Sky’s market value by capping appreciation of each unit at 2 percent per year, so that the subsidy is tied to the units and doesn’t leave when the first owner sells.
“Fifty-two units isn’t going to fix our problem here in Big Sky,” Seyfang said. “[But] it’s a great start.”