By Michael Somerby EBS Digital Editor
BIG SKY – On Feb. 21, the Big Sky Community Housing Trust advisory council met in the Human Resource and Development Council offices in Meadow Village Center to review the Feb. 20 Senate Bill 241 hearing in Helena, discuss the appropriate vernacular for defining affordable housing projects in Big Sky, and assess the state of water usage in the community, among other items.
SB 241 seeks to provide 10 resort areas and communities around Montana the option to levy a supplementary 1-percent tax in addition to the existing 3-percent resort tax on luxury goods and services sold in these communities.
Funds collected by this incremental 1 percent in resort tax would be used solely for infrastructural projects. “Infrastructure,” as defined by SB 241, means, “tangible facilities and assets related to water, sewer, wastewater treatment, storm water, solid waste and utilities systems, fire protection, ambulance and law enforcement, and roads and bridges.”
If SB 241 is passed, appropriations from funds gathered by the existing 3 percent tax have the potential to increase if the local community voted to implement the tax, benefitting organizations like the housing trust. Last June, the Big Sky Resort Area District board approved $1.945 million in funding to the housing trust, a number that could increase as less of the funds derived from the standing 3 percent resort tax are diverted for infrastructural needs.
“It’s obvious housing is a huge need in this community, so we want [BSRAD] to know they have our support,” housing trust member and Big Sky Chamber of Commerce CEO Candace Carr-Strauss said.
A major component of the trust’s role in garnering funds from the resort tax board is clearly defining projects in advance of application for funding, in addition to documenting and communicating measurable successes from previously funded projects.
“I think that the resort tax board sees the Meadowview developments as a success,” said Brian Wheeler, vice president of real estate development for Big Sky Resort and housing trust member. “They trust our team to make good use of funds.”
The Meadowview property northwest of the Big Sky Community Park is comprised of 52 units for which there are 60 qualified applicants, according to Wheeler, underlining the high demand for subsidized housing in the area.
The current construction timeline for Meadowview has the earliest units available on June 1, with the last units completed by the close of the calendar year.
When describing projects like Meadowview, the trust noted the importance in distinguishing deed-restricted housing projects from those termed “affordable” or “attainable” by a developer or property manager.
When a future owner of a deed-restricted Meadowview unit decides to sell, the subsidy will remain tied to the unit rather than the seller, maintaining the unit’s affordability in perpetuity.
Conversely, the first owner of a property or unit that is not deed restricted may gather the windfall of a subsidized unit by selling at market value, rendering the property potentially unaffordable for successive buyers.
“We’ve seen ‘workforce housing,’ ‘affordable housing,’ and ‘attainable housing,’” Laura Seyfang, program director of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, said. “I prefer ‘deed-restricted community housing.’”
The Meadowview units are meant to house permanent community members, not seasonal employs, Yellowstone Club General Manager and housing trust member Hans Williamson said.
“Seasonal workforce housing should be the employers’ responsibility,” Williamson said.
All Meadowview applicants were required to prove a minimum of 24 months of employment in Big Sky to ensure their long-term commitment to the area.
“We’re looking for people that are actively demonstrating a desire to make Big Sky their permanent home,” Seyfang said. “People that will become part of the permanent fabric of this community.”
One of the principal roadblocks in securing housing developments in a community like Big Sky is water and sewer infrastructure.
“The land may not be the issue when acquiring property for attainable community housing, the challenge is water and sewer,” Wheeler said. “But the cooperative irrigation plan last summer helped the BSWSD increase pond storage capacity to extraordinary levels. The improvement allows all parties to plan for future needs and opportunities while implementing plant upgrades.”