Behind the scenes of the RENT LOCAL program
Big Sky Community Housing Trust’s pilot program finds some success
With rentals few and far between in Big Sky, The Big Sky Community Housing Trust (BSCHT) created a program called RENT LOCAL which matches up homeowners with reliable renters for long term leases in the Big Sky area by providing cash incentives to compete against the vacation rental market. To date, approximately 56 people have found housing in 29 different properties through the incentive-based program since August, 2021.
According to Becky Brockie, the BSCHT program manager for RENT LOCAL, 197 tenants are currently on the waitlist for the RENT LOCAL program. The goal for RENT LOCAL is to create short-term solutions to the housing crisis by connecting local workers with homeowners until more options are developed. RENT LOCAL offers free tenant screening, lease preparation, and cash incentives “to help make-up the income difference between the vacation rental market and the long-term rental market,” explained Brockie.
“So far, the funding for RENT LOCAL incentives comes from Resort Tax as well as two grants from Spanish Peaks Community Foundation. Currently, the Housing Trust is applying for additional funding from other community foundations as well as promoting an end-of-year fundraiser to raise additional funds,” wrote Brockie. “We have earmarked $214,920 to owners committing to the RENT LOCAL program. As Big Sky Community Housing Trust distributes the payments throughout the rental period, not all of the money has been spent yet,” said Brockie.
The Heglund family, who recently moved from Billings to Big Sky, first heard about the program on Montana Public Radio. “First of all, we all know there’s a housing crisis in Big Sky. We saw that 13 years ago [when she lived here previously],” explained Heglund. After weighing some of the pros and cons with short-term vacation rentals like AirBnb, Jenny decided to reach out to BSCHT. She then met Becky, the RENT LOCAL program manager, over the phone.
“Becky was awesome. She was great. I reached out and said, ‘Hey, we have this apartment, can you tell me more?
We’d be interested in doing this if it works out.’ She got me all the details, all the information, and there was the incentive too... Honestly, I was like we have two young kids in our house and professional jobs. My husband’s working as an engineer from home. We needed to have good quality renters; that was very important to us,” said Heglund.
“First, they screen all the applicants, they checked for their employment, they do background checks, everything you need. And then she [Becky] specifically picked these two candidates out and was like, ‘Hey, these two have been looking for housing and it fell through, through no fault of their own. I think they’d be a good fit...’ They gave us a lot of freedom with choosing who we rented to,” explained Heglund.
Locals Leslie and Ryan, who work numerous jobs and do not have kids or pets, have struggled to find housing in Big Sky over the last year. They signed up for the RENT LOCAL program when their landlords decided to offer up the housing to employees.
“For the beginning of 2021 we were living in a month-tomonth rental,” explained Leslie. “Somehow by the good grace of God my significant other found us a temporary rental on Craigslist through November… otherwise we’d have moved to Belgrade or Bozeman. We were checking housing opportunities multiple times every day and were the first ones to apply to a newly listed apartment on the housing trust website. After meeting the young and professional property owners, we ended up signing a year-long lease for an incredibly affordable apartment in a family neighborhood,” said Leslie.
"I understand the hesitation some property owners have. If I was a property owner in Big Sky, especially if I was inviting someone to live on property with my family, I would want to vet potential tenants to the fullest extent. I’ve heard owners talk about terrible experiences with tenants who have zero respect for private property. You want a tenant who takes care of your place and respects your rights as a landlord. Not everyone does. Put your conditions in detail in the lease. Meet with the tenant(s) in person and use your intuitive smarts to figure out if they’re a good fit. If you’re not comfortable renting out your place, then don’t. It’s your right to choose. Please know when you choose to help Big Sky’s workforce find homes, it does make a difference in the chronic understaffing of your local grocery stores, childcare facilities, and restaurants,” wrote Leslie.
If you’re an applicant or homeowner hoping to get involved with the RENT LOCAL program, please reach out to the Big Sky Community Housing Trust by phone or email. They will ask potential tenants to complete an application with employment, rental history, and total income. The staff will validate this information and then share your information with potential homeowners. Homeowners too must complete an application. BSCHT may provide a sample lease for those who do not have one. The staff will also check to make sure the rental is in good standing order and ready for use.