New housing trust director
Former auto industry exec rolls up sleeves for affordable homes
Laura Seyfang has always admired former President Jimmy Carter and his work with Habitat for Humanity. On 13 different missions, the former GM executive and Big Sky resident used vacation time to volunteer for Habitat projects around the world: Kenya, Nepal, Vietnam and Paraguay. In Thailand, Seyfang showed up at a job site with 2,000 other volunteers. Their goal: build 83 homes in 10 days.
Trying to get her bearings before work began, Seyfang dropped by a completed home to see what the finished product was supposed to look like.
“So I just go in the backdoor in this house and coming out of one of the rooms—who almost bumps into me—is Rosalynn Carter,” remembered Seyfang. “And then Jimmy comes right up behind her. Jimmy says, ‘Who’s this?’ And Rosalynn said, ‘This is Laura.’”
“Right then, two secret service guys come up and say, ‘What are you doing here?’” continued Seyfang, who was then escorted away from the former first couple.
On Oct. 3 at the Big Sky Resort District Area Tax Board meeting, Seyfang received another memorable introduction. Board Member Steve Johnson announced the resort-tax-funded Big Sky Community Housing Trust just hired Seyfang as its director.
“They have come up with an unbelievably rare jewel… She’s a real shot of adrenaline,” remarked Johnson, praising Seyfang’s experience in the corporate and nonprofit worlds. After 32 years with GM and the parts supplier Adelphi, Seyfang became executive director of the Red Cross in Dayton, Ohio.
At the time, the Red Cross ran “the two of the largest homeless shelters in the area,” said Seyfang, while also helping those in need with subsidized rentals around Dayton.
In Big Sky, said Seyfang, “I’ve certainly seen the impact of housing prices out here and my past experience I worked with people who needed housing help, too.”
Creating Seyfang’s position is part of the Big Sky Community Housing Action Plan, which came out in June following a community-wide survey looking for insights into the challenges faced by local renters and homebuyers.
Seyfang has been both. On her first ski trip to Big Sky in 1997, she was charmed enough to purchase a Shoshone Condo on the spot. At the time, “It was so much more affordable than Vail.”
Since then, she’s purchased several other properties and managed some as rentals. In April, she bought her current home. Recalling the experience, Seyfang said she “found the prices to be extraordinarily high.”
The median home price in Big Sky is somewhere around $1.85 million and the average price is around $900,000.
The Big Sky Community Housing Action Plan grew out of this increasingly expensive market as those working in Big Sky found it difficult to live in Big Sky. The plan, backed with resort tax funding, “presents a set of actions that address a range of community housing needs.”
The action plan goes on to note how: “655 housing units are needed over the next five years to address the current housing shortfall for residents and the workforce and to keep up with job growth. About 360 of these units need to be priced below-market to meet the full range of community housing needs. This includes a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom housing units, with prices ranging primarily between $200,000 and $475,000 for ownership and $650 to $1,500 per month for rent.”
Those are just some of the goals Seyfang is now charged with pursuing, and she’s hitting the ground running as the Meadowview II project picks up speed. Foundations are poured and Seyfang believes it’s realistic to expect these properties—located next to Community Park on Little Coyote Road—going up for sale to approved buyers by next summer.
Through HRDC in Bozeman, the Big Sky Community Housing Trust is in the process of purchasing Meadowview II.
“Essentially HRDC will purchase the property once it receives its final plat,” explained Tracy Menuez, who will be Seyfang’s supervisor and oversees HRDC community development projects like Meadowview II. Menuez said HRDC’s Brian Guyer—a familiar face at many local meetings—will turn his focus toward projects in Gardiner and White Sulphur Springs as Seyfang eases into the job in Big Sky.
“They’ve laid out a lot of great strategies,” said Seyfang, saluting groundwork laid by Guyer and others involved with developing the housing action plan.
Seyfang described her role as an “implementor,” making sure the housing trust continues to pursue goals spelled out in the action plan.
“It’s all difficult,” said HRDC’s Menuez, including the financing of new properties for locals who want to buy in Big Sky.
Thanks to a group of local lenders, said Seyfang, and funding from the resort tax and Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, about “five to seven households” will receive assistance from a first-time homebuyers downpayment program.
With a downpayment in hand, the idea is to connect these buyers with affordable properties. Some will be part of the community trust and set up to offer affordable options into the future.
“It’s designed to make sure affordable housing continues to be affordable housing,” said Seyfang. She’s heard some criticize the program, saying, “Nobody helped me with a downpayment when I moved here.” To this, Seyfang responded, “Prices weren’t this crazy 10 to 15 years ago. Certainly, resort communities are experiencing this situation. And this community can’t continue to grow and thrive if we don’t have a place for our workers to live. So it suits all of us. So no matter what your tax bracket is, it’s in your interest to find a solution to this problem.”