Nothing has remained untouched by the COVID pandemic, including the housing market. Nearly every local business identified the “lack of affordable housing for workers” as the most critical problem in Big Sky prior to the pandemic. The influx of people moving to Gallatin County with the ability to work remotely has only intensified this problem. In the past, workers unable to secure a home in Big Sky could commute from Bozeman. Currently, that's not an option as both Big Sky and Bozeman have a 0% rental vacancy rate, forcing hundreds of people to compete for a handful of available units.
The inability for workers to find a home directly impacts the success of small business owners. "Right now it's a scramble for everyone. Businesses are forced to fight for employees," Alex Omania, owner of Lotus Pad, said. "We had to close two days a week because I don't have enough staff to be open seven days."
Omania, who has owned Lotus Pad for 14 years, operated all summer with a skeleton crew of six in her kitchen. She wanted to hire 12. Consequently, online reviews suffered as patrons experienced long waits, and her business lost $45,000 a month this summer because it could not remain open daily.
Building enough housing to address Omania's and other small business owners needs will take years. However, an immediate solution is to convert some of the thousands of existing vacation rentals on the market into long term rentals for locals. BSCHT partnered with Landing Locals to create a website that helps owners find great local renters as well as earn dependable income.