Posted by Bay Stephens and Michael Somerby on Oct 21, 2019
Big Sky Rotary Members have been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Gallatin Valley to build much-needed teacher houses in Big Sky.

By Bay Stephens and Michael Somerby

BIG SKY – After approximately six months of investigation and due diligence, the Big Sky School District officially announced at the March 21 school board meeting that they would partner with Habitat for Humanity Gallatin Valley to build two triplexes on school property at a total cost of $900,000, and seek the vote of the community to fund $600,000 of the project with Habitat for Humanity requesting the remaining $300,000 from resort tax funding.

“Given the desperate state of housing for everyone in the community, we have taken the opportunity to create the idea of a partnership with Habitat for Humanity,” board chair Loren Bough said during the meeting. 

The teacher housing project hinges on voter approval in the May 7 mail-in election, which would guarantee $600,000 in loans and interest to install the foundation and build the first three of the six units this summer. Habitat for Humanity Executive Director David Magistrelli estimated these first units could be completed by October and that everything is in place to break ground if the levy passes.

“We’re already talking to contractors,” Magistrelli said. “If it passes on [May 7], we could begin on [May 8].” 

The remaining three units would be built the summer of 2020, depending on the funding approval of the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board. 

The cost to taxpayers for the $600,000 needed for the district triplexes would be $5.64 per year for every $100,000 in market value of a home. The levy would last for five years so that, on a million-dollar home, the homeowner would pay $56.4 per year for that period.

“The board recognized its own organizational need as a part of a bigger community need and I think worked really hard to find the perfect partner for it,” BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman said. “Now we’re providing the community the opportunity to support it through a voted levy.”

The housing project will help address struggles the school faces such as losing teachers that commute from Bozeman—which comprises half of the school district’s workforce—after four or five years, or the crisis of teachers renting in Big Sky whose landlords suddenly give them a month to clear out so the house or apartment can be put on the short-term rental market, Shipman said. 

“It’s really about teachers, which is really about students,” Shipman said. 

The estimated price per square foot is less than $135, less than half of the average in Big Sky. The low cost is made possible by Habitat for Humanity’s nonprofit status, meaning no markup on building materials, as well as donated services, appliances, and a core volunteer workforce, Magistrelli said.

Coming in at approximately $130,000 per unit, the triplexes would be owned by the school district, which would be able to rent them significantly below market value, solely at the cost of maintenance.

“The board doesn’t take those asks lightly, believe me,” Shipman said. “We’re partnering with an organization that is nationally known for doing the right thing.”