Affordable housing working group up and running

Talking tools, next steps and new staff

     The Big Sky Community Housing Trust hopes to secure land, partnerships and other resources for the development of affordable housing and to do that it needs additional staffing. 

     That’s one of the takeaways from the March 22 working group meeting hosted by HRDC and led by consultant Wendy Sullivan. The group is slated to meet three more times in April—April 11-12 and April 26—on the way to producing a final report by the first week of June.

    The working group’s goal is to move Big Sky into an action phase with land acquisitions, grant applications and coordination by an additional staffer dedicated to bringing more affordable housing to the community. HRDC’s Brian Guyer will remain involved, but he splits his time by working on housing issues in communities across Gallatin, Park and Meagher Counties. 

     Heather Grenier, president and CEO of HRDC, is part of the working group. She explained, “This position will only happen if we are successful in funding the position. It will not be similar to the city of Bozeman’s new (affordable housing) position. It would be similar to Brian’s current position, however fully dedicated to Big Sky and not stretched across multiple communities.  I would anticipate that if funded, the person may share office space with our Big Sky Community Food Bank. If funding is secured, the new position would potentially begin July 1, 2018.”

     On March 22, Sullivan led the working group of around 20 members through a list of tools useful in growing a resort community’s affordable housing stock. One of those is “land banking,” which Sullivan describes as “locating parcels to get into the community land trust for future development in partnership with private developers and employers.”

     In Breckenridge, said Sullivan, 75 percent of affordable housing units have been developed through the land banking model. Except in Breckenridge, it’s the town rather than a land trust that owns the property and issues RFPs to developers to partner and produce the development desired by the town. 

     Another tool is annexation, but Sullivan said, “It has more limited application in Big Sky because it is not incorporated.”

     She added, “One area to explore is annexation into the water and sewer district. When requests are made, for example, the district may be able to require some units be affordable. This has yet to be fleshed out in detail in Big Sky, but is on the table for the sessions in April.”

     Big Sky Water and Sewer District General Manager Ron Edwards said before talking about annexing specific parcels of land for the benefit of an affordable housing development, the community needs to “step back and see how it’s all interconnected.”

     Here’s what Edwards means: The water and sewer district is hesitant to annex property and expand its boundaries without increasing its capacity to provide fresh water and dispose of treated water. 

     “To do that we’ve got to get our head around capacity,” said Edwards. 

     That’s why Edwards sees a connection between making snow with treated or recycled water and access to affordable housing. Because before bringing more properties into the district’s boundaries, it first needs to make sure it’s able to dispose of an increasing amount of treated water. 

     Kevin Germain, with Lone Mountain Land Company, is a member of the affordable housing working group and at the March 27 Madison County Planning Board meeting, he made a similar point when the board asked for an update about affordable housing in Big Sky. 

     “There’s a clear nexus between affordable housing and water disposal and supply,” Germain told the board. “And we’re not going to be able to solve our housing issue until we solve our water issues.”

     Mike DuCuennois, vice president of development at the Yellowstone Club and a Big Sky Water and Sewer District board member, responded to Germain’s comment, saying the canyon area between the Conoco and the Corral has good, flat building lots. 

     “But if you were to annex that area, it would double the water that needs to be treated,” said DuCuennois. 

     Charity Fechter, Madison County planning director and affordable housing working group member nodded in agreement: “That’s the limiting factor. It’s water.”

     For local property owners wondering if there’s something they can do to help Big Sky grow its affordable housing, there is one do-it-yourself tool individual homeowners can use to make a difference one “Accessory Dwelling Unit” at a time. ADU is jargon for an additional residence added to an existing property, such as a small cabin, cottage or apartment above a garage (like where the Fonz lived). 

     “This tool typically does not produce a lot of units, but every little bit helps,” said Sullivan. “And it reaches a unique in-fill opportunity on lots that would likely otherwise provide no new housing for residents.”

     To trigger confidence and investment in affordable housing, Sullivan said the community tool box also needs a mix of regulations, incentives, partnerships and funding options because communities depend on a range of strategies to address a variety of housing needs for different segments of the workforce. 

     Right now, Sullivan said the working group is focusing on “eight to 10 strategies they can get working immediately” like the down-payment assistance program spearheaded by HRDC.  

 All of the work, explained Sullivan, is inspired by responses to the recent Big Sky housing survey. 

     "There’s definitely a link there. The data is driving the process. The survey responses are a core component to why this is all happening,” said Sullivan, adding that the impassioned tone of some responses shows “how critical the situation is.” 



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