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State awards nearly $7M to local workforce housing

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PHOTO BY FOTOPAK/stock.adobe.com

By Bella Butler EBS STAFF

HELENA – The Montana Board of Housing on Nov. 15 awarded $6.49 million to a workforce housing project in Big Sky known as the RiverView Apartments.

In the throes of a widely consequential housing crisis, leadership for the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, which will develop part of the RiverView project, says the Low Income Housing Tax Credit award is a key step in advancing sustainable solutions. 

The housing trust currently reports that the average monthly rental price in Big Sky is $1,200 per bedroom. Affordability aside, long-term rental vacancy rate is 0 percent in Big Sky, according to the housing trust.

After the board of housing advanced the RiverView project from a pool of 12 applicants to the top eight in May, RiverView did not rank among the top four projects to receive LIHTC funding in October.

However, the state received a release from the IRS after the October allocation indicating Montana would receive more tax credits to distribute than the housing board had initially estimated. At its November meeting, the board chose to distribute $220,000 to a previously awarded project in Lewiston that needed additional funding, and the remaining $6.49 million to RiverView.

“It just allows this total project to move forward, which will add up to 400 beds for local workers,” said Laura Seyfang, executive director of the housing trust.

According to Nicole Keith, multifamily program manager for Montana Housing, a fifth project would have received reduced funding regardless of the IRS release, but the news from the IRS allowed the board to fulfill RiverView’s request in full. Of the nearly $29.4 million allocated across six projects by the state, RiverView was awarded the largest sum.

The RiverView project was announced in January as a collaborative project between the housing trust and local developer Lone Mountain Land Company. The housing trust will develop 25 of the project’s units, and LMLC will develop the remaining 75.

All units will be exclusively rented to local workers, and rent will be capped, according to the housing trust’s website.

RiverView’s LIHTC application received 10 letters of support from community members and regional leaders, endorsements Seyfang said she made a big push for after coming up empty handed in October.

Sen. Pat Flowers and Rep. Jane Gillette, who represent Big Sky in the Montana Legislature, advocated for the project as well.

“I think people have this illusion that Big Sky doesn’t have some of the problems that the rest of Montana does, but we do,” Gillette told EBS in a Nov. 17 interview. Gillette spoke at the Nov. 15 board of housing meeting and said she shared insight on Big Sky’s limited land availability compared to nearby towns like Bozeman and Belgrade that have sprawl potential.

Gillette also described the white crosses that line U.S. Highway 191 through the Gallatin Canyon, an indication of the peril 80 percent of Big Sky’s workforce faces when commuting from Gallatin Valley on a daily basis.

With the LIHTC award and $1.9 million in resort tax funding, the housing trust still remains between $2-3 million short of its budget, Seyfang said. To close the gap, the housing trust will take out a loan and seek support from the community.

Due to an agreement with the Big Sky County Water and Sewer Board, RiverView is scheduled to open its doors to occupants in August of 2023, a timeline coinciding with the completion of the forthcoming water resource recovery facility expansion.

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