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Building a Solution to the Housing Crisis

March 12, 2021

“Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build”

Equivocal as it is subtle. Conor Dougherty’s essay in the NYT follows a proposed residential development in a San Francisco Suburb, and the turbulent clash between those supporting and opposing the project. In a brilliant bit of reporting, Dougherty follows the drama as municipal staff try to walk a line between the developers, residents set on preserving their neighborhood character, and housing advocates claiming the planned development doesn't go far enough in creating affordable units. Despite taking place over a thousand miles away, the whole situation feels eerily familiar here in Bozeman. 

This story is repeating itself all across America. As the cost of living outpaces wages, home ownership is on the decline for young people, homelessness and evictions are rising, and a global pandemic has drawn the inequities in our world into even sharper relief. Housing plays a central role in many of the issues we face – racial and economic inequality, health and wellbeing, climate change, just to name a few – but it is also a wicked problem. “Wickedness” is a particular term that describes complex systems, where the many intricate layers make it difficult to change one thing without impacting many others. 

Smart people all across the board are scratching their heads at affordable housing, with tools like policy changes, non-profit programs, and financial instruments, but there is an elephant in the room when it comes to affordability. As Dougherty notes, “there is, simply put, a dire shortage of housing in places where people and companies want to live — and reactionary local politics that fight every effort to add more homes.” While the housing crisis is a national issue, it is most acutely felt, and battled, at the local level.

Bozeman has garnered plenty of attention in the last year as waves of remote workers fled their locked-down cities, resulting in a staggering spike in real estate prices. As a young professional here, the rise in median home price is an unavoidable topic in almost every conversation I have around town. Sentiments range from anger to bitter, grief-stricken to calloused, but nobody really has a solution. It would appear that those that live and work in Bozeman are becoming resigned to the fact that homeownership is out of reach. That is not, by any means, due to a lack of effort. Community Leaders, including HRDC IX, Habitat for Humanity of Gallatin Valley, the City of Bozeman, as well as many others, have led efforts to create or preserve affordable housing for decades, and we are humbled to join and support their efforts. The fact remains that middle income earners are watching their hopes of owning a house in Bozeman erode.

One of Foothold’s mentors shared this thought recently: “There are three ways to create affordable homes, first is to subsidize traditionally built houses, second is to build and sell for lower cost, and third is to build them 30 years ago.” At Foothold, we see a massive need in the market for the second option. While the cost of materials, land, and labor continues to increase, the truth is that our current construction processes do not build homes as efficiently as they could. We believe that by shrinking the size but maintaining all the necessary elements desired in a single-family home and by moving our production line to an indoor, controlled environment, we can build and sell homes for a lower cost than what is currently available. Foothold’s approach to maintaining affordability for a full-scale solution is simple. We will build small homes using high-quality materials and rigorous quality control. Our small footprint ensures short-term affordability, and our high-quality design ensures lower maintenance and utility costs for long-term affordability. 

Foothold is always learning, growing, and delving deeper into the inequities that exist in entering and maintaining the housing market.