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As mountain communities struggle with lack of housing, one company sees modular homes as a solution

Buena Vista modular housing
Posted at 5:10 PM, Sep 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-22 02:31:55-04

BUENA VISTA, Colo. — All around Colorado, mountain communities are working on ways to solving a serious housing crunch.

Big ski resorts like Aspen and Vail, all the way to lesser-known destinations, like Buena Vista, are trying to find attainable housing for the employees who work there.

Many of these communities are trying a multi-pronged approach to solving the issue. In Buena Vista, a local company is trying to help.

In an unassuming field just a short distance from the airport, construction is underway on a new warehouse. Fading West Development is the company leading the charge on the 110,000 square foot facility.

Housing construction is not something CEO Charlie Chupp ever thought he’d be doing for a career; Chupp spent the last 20 years manufacturing and general contracting for food stores like Starbucks, Safeway and Einstein Bros Bakery.

Several years ago, though, Chupp was asked to help come up with a solution to the town’s housing crunch. His solution: modular houses.

“Modular housing is basically a type of construction where you’re moving probably 80 to 90% of the work from the construction site into a manufacturing facility,” Chupp said.

Once complete, homes with be put together piece by piece inside the warehouse from walls to piping to electrical. They will then be transported to their final destination and assembled.

Chupp says the modular housing method optimizes equipment and materials, improves safety and is more cost effective overall. He estimates a savings of 20-30% per home, which would then be passed down to the customers.

The construction timeline is also significantly shorter; it takes about 10 days to build a house in one of these facilities and another few weeks to install the house on its lot.

Once the factory is up and running, Fading West Development estimates it will be able to create 500-700 attainable housing units a year.

Half of the homes created here will end up in developments created by the company and the other half will be sold to other communities with an emphasis on partnering with organizations that work to achieve attainable housing.

Modular houses have not been a particularly popular option in the past, however with a housing crunch that is quickly reaching crisis levels in mountain communities, even before construction on the factory has been completed the production has been booked out for years.

Communities from all over the state have started to reach out to inquire about the production line.

“We were only looking at figuring out this community’s issues and trying to solve a problem here and kind of stepped into this huge world of this crisis being everywhere, all over Colorado,” Chupp said.

Just a couple blocks away from the construction of that warehouse, a modular housing neighborhood called The Farm is slowly growing.

The houses in this development were built in a construction facility in Nebraska and then transported here. However, the transport costs money and Fading West realized the demand is so great in Colorado it was best to build a factory in Colorado.

Already, dozens of families are calling this neighborhood home.

“You want to live in your community where you work right. That should be the goal,” said resident Lawrence Woody. “In some cases you have a job that pays pretty well but you still cannot afford the housing.”

Woody moved in about a year ago after seeing how expensive housing and construction prices were in the area and considers himself lucky to call the community home.

“Modulars aren’t what they used to be. They’re built to International Residential Code standards and they really hold their value,” Woody said.

He believes this model could work for a lot of communities across the state as families look for attainable housing.

Currently, Fading West has six different floorplans, ranging in size and cost. Some of the attainable units start at $250,000 while the most expensive option is around $700,000. The goal is to create a community where there are housing options for everyone from service workers to doctors all living in the same community.

Even within this little community, though, there are housing issues. Homes that were constructed and sold in phase one of the development are appreciating by roughly 30% a year and being sold at a much higher price than intended.

That means houses that were meant to be affordable are quickly becoming unattainable for families.

Woody has heard of some neighbors planning to sell but doesn’t see the appeal in the idea.

“The prices are skyrocketing just about everywhere. You could sell and make some money right now after a year but where would you go? Where would you go really? You’d have to find something less expensive that would probably be less desirable to live,” he said.

In phase two of The Farm’s development, at least half of the houses will be deed restricted to guarantee that they are sold to someone working in the community instead of a second homeowner. The restrictions will also prevent the price of the houses from increasing too much too rapidly.

“We would’ve never expected this level of a crisis,” Chupp said.

Construction of the factory is expected to be completed in November. Already, there are discussions of expanding the operation to try to accommodate even more units and another factory on the Front Range.

“It’s still probably will not put a dent in that housing needs across the state,” Chupp said.

Modular houses might not be the silver bullet to Colorado’s housing crunch, but Chupp hopes they could play a part in the overall solution.