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A new program in Big Sky is offering landlords up to $14,500 to convert vacation rentals or seasonal homes into long-term rentals amid a shortage of available and affordable housing.

The Big Sky Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit that aims to address the town’s housing crisis, kicked off the “Cash for Leases” program on Aug. 1.

The program is funded by donations from the Spanish Peaks Community Foundation and through the area’s resort tax. The nonprofit plans to spend about $110,000 to convince homeowners to rent to locals long-term.

“We’re trying to get creative,” said the nonprofit’s executive director Laura Seyfang.

The housing and wealth disparity in Big Sky has grown. From July 2020 to July 2021 the median price of a single-family home spiked by 111% to about $2.9 million in the greater Big Sky area, according to data from the Gallatin Association of Realtors. The median price for condos and townhomes was nearly $1 million this July, a 47% increase from July 2020.

The average monthly rent in Big Sky is $1,200 per bedroom and there’s virtually no long-term vacancy, while the median income for a four person household was about $88,900, according to the nonprofit.

“People call me when they’re losing their house. I’ve sure had a lot of that this summer,” Seyfang said. “I don’t have enough solutions for them.”

The housing trust has worked to convince owners of the some 1,200 vacation rentals in Big Sky to rent long-term to local residents, offering up inexpensive property management services and background checks for renters.

“We tried to take away the excuses and concerns to rent local,” Seyfang said.

Through that program about 14 housing units were converted from vacation rentals to long-term residences, she said.

But Big Sky needs about 655 more houses by 2023 to address the current housing shortfall, according to the nonprofit.

“The reality is that people can make more money renting short-term than they can to long-term locals,” Seyfang said.

The housing trust estimated that homeowners make on average about $7,000 more annually on short-term rentals than by renting long-term.

The program aims to match that in the hopes that more homeowners will rent to residents. A portion of the fund will also go to landlords who commit to renewing long-term leases for locals.

The program will give eligible homeowners — who sign leases with locals —$1,500 for a new 6-month lease, $6,750 for a new or renewed one-year lease and $14,500 for a new two-year lease.

In its first two weeks about three homeowners have expressed interest in the program, Seyfang said. She hopes the program grows and more homeowners consider renting to locals.

“This is a big problem and it’s going to take a lot of different people to work together to find a solution,” she said.

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

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