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Workers struggle to find affordable housing in Big Sky



By Maria Wyllie Editorial Assistant

BIG SKY – It’s easier to find a job in Big Sky than a place to live.

All rentals managed by local property management companies are at full occupancy, and firms such as Alpine Property Management and Elevated Property Management are advising people seeking housing to post housing and roommate requests on community bulletin boards and on Craigslist.

However, even these resources are of little help. If you go on Craigslist, you’ll find ads from people looking for housing in Big Sky, but posts advertising available rentals are rare. If a new listing is posted, interested renters must act quickly, as it will most likely be gone within a day. If you have a pet, you’ll have an even harder time.

In an attempt to help incoming workers with housing, Big Sky Resort bought the Mountain Lodge in 1993 and the Golden Eagle Lodge in 2007, designating them as employee housing. Rent costs $7.50 a day, making this an affordable and convenient option for the resort’s workers who want to stay in Big Sky for the winter season only. With 130 units available, employees on the waiting list are placed in hotel rooms until a room opens up at one of the two lodgings.

“We guarantee that people will have a place to stay when they arrive,” said Brandon Marr, Housing Coordinator for Big Sky Resort. “We will not leave them high and dry.”

Big Sky Resort does not see a need for more employee-designated housing at this time, but the company will continue to watch and see if a greater need becomes apparent, said Dax Schieffer, Director of Human Resources at Big Sky Resort.

Although seasonal workers make up a large percentage of people moving to Big Sky, the lack of affordable housing is a problem encountered by a wide range of those looking to move here year round.

Kitty Clemens, Executive Director of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, was forced to wait through the winter to find housing. “The first time I tried to move here, in November of 2011, I gave up and did something else because there was no housing available,” she said.

Clemens emphasized Big Sky’s need to rebuild the local economy, which she said is still weak. Fewer summer residents and tourists mean fewer employees and less money for businesses in the commercial district.

Having more affordable rental housing would help attract potential year-round residents who can reduce commercial vacancies by keeping businesses staffed and by bringing more revenue into Big Sky, Clemens added.

People who make their paychecks in Big Sky need to be spending them in Big Sky, Clemens said, not in Bozeman, like many workers do.

Having lived in Big Sky for 13 years, Kevin Butler, a broker at Montana Living – Big Sky Real Estate, has witnessed changes in the housing market in both a social and professional sense. He thinks more people are finally willing to step up and do something.

“There is a giant pile of people waiting to move into Big Sky,” Butler said. “We’ve reached a critical point, and the reward is finally out-pacing the risk.”

The Gallatin County Department of Planning and Community Development has confirmed that zoning for multi-family rental housing exists in Big Sky. However, the county is unaware of any projects in the works.

The shortage of rental housing in Big Sky, especially for those with pets, has been touched on in recent Chamber of Commerce and marketing meetings in Big Sky, according to Ryan Hamilton, Town Center Project Manager.

In regards to Town Center, “we will be taking a look at our project and the market to see what we can do to incentivize or encourage the construction of more rental condos or townhomes in Big Sky, which should in turn help make employees easier to attract and keep,” Hamilton said in an email.

It’s now a question of whether investing in new developments is worth the risk. Due to high demand and limited supply of affordable rental housing, it looks promising.

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