Bozeman health

The Bridger Mountains tower over Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital on Nov. 19.

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Bozeman Health plans to build a workforce housing development outside of Belgrade near the airport in an effort to help retain and attract new employees in Gallatin County’s increasingly expensive housing market.

The development, announced Monday, will be the first workforce housing project of this scale the health system has undertaken.

The development is planned to be built in partnership with ERES Capital, a real estate investment and development firm.

ERES Capital CEO Mike Elliot said many details on the development are still being ironed out and that initial plans have not yet been submitted to the city of Belgrade.

Bozeman Health plans to initially build approximately 100 units in partnership with ERES Capital, according to the Monday announcement.

The development is planned to be in the Yellowstone Airport Plaza, a former gravel pit south of the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport at Gallatin Field that is being redeveloped into a more than 50-acre mixed-use site with tentative plans for hotels, restaurants, a movie theater and bowling alley and some housing developments.

Construction on the 15-acre workforce housing development could begin as early as summer 2022 and be completed toward the end of 2023.

That would be the first part of the project and Bozeman Health in the future “will also be able to expand the number of units available to employees.”

With this first phase, “the goal is to have these units available for employees to rent at attainable rates,” Bozeman Health said in a press release.

What those “attainable rates” will be are still being narrowed down, said Edie Willey, Bozeman Health’s chief people officer.

“It’s making sure someone that’s making $17 an hour can have access to that housing,” she said, but said she wasn’t yet able to give a dollar amount for what monthly rent may look like for the development.

Willey said the housing market has become increasingly untenable for Bozeman Health employees to find a place to live in the Gallatin Valley. That’s made retaining employees and attracting prospective employees difficult, she said.

“It’s gotten to a point where a number of our employees cannot afford to live here in Gallatin Valley,” Willey said.

Like many businesses and organizations in Bozeman, finding staff has become a challenge. Bozeman Health has several hundred open positions. In early September, the hospital had more than 400 job openings.

In October, Bozeman Health raised its minimum wage to $17 an hour in an effort to keep up with local competition and attract new employees.

“I’m sensitive to the fact that even though the $17 was well received and people were excited about it, I want to be realistic it doesn’t solve everyone’s problems,” Willey said.

Willey said Bozeman Health is also exploring shorter-term solutions like finding additional housing in the interim and using the employee emergency fund to help struggling employees.

“We’re just looking at what we can do to put a band aid on that immediate need” she said.

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com

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