BUTTE, Mont. – A local start-up, Foothold Housing Solutions, LLC, was awarded a grant from the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund (BSTF) to plan Montana’s first modular home manufacturing facility that will produce high performance and cost effective houses. The grant’s matching funds, awarded through Butte Local Development Center/Headwaters Resource Conservation and Development (BLDC/Headwaters), will allow Foothold to work with lean manufacturing specialists from the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC).
“We are truly grateful for the support from BLDC/Headwaters, MMEC, the City and County of Butte-Silver Bow, and the Montana Department of Commerce,” said Hannah Van Wetter, Foothold’s co-founder and CEO, “this grant funding will help us streamline our processes, and allow us to create better quality houses faster and more economically.”
Foothold was founded in late 2020 to address the shortage of affordable houses in Montana’s fast growing communities. Van Wetter’s experience in the construction world led her to think about how things could be done differently. “Modular construction makes sense in Montana,” Van Wetter explained, “on a normal job site, you might be shoveling snow 8 months out of the year.” Modular construction refers to the process of building most of the structure in a factory, trucking it to the site, and setting it onto a foundation with a crane. This method shortens construction times, and building inside a factory means materials aren’t subject to the elements. It’s a popular technique in Europe, but of all the houses in Montana, only a tiny fraction are currently built offsite. That’s in large part because there aren’t any factories in Montana, so the units have to be trucked in from Idaho, Utah, or the Midwest.
The BSTF is a program of Montana’s Office of Tourism And Business Development that awards grants to economic development planning efforts that will promote long-term and stable growth in Montana. BLDC/Headwaters, headed by Joe Willauer, was integral in Foothold’s application, helping coordinate with MMEC and other local experts. Montana Manufacturing Extension Center is a statewide manufacturing outreach and assistance center staffed by full-time professionals with extensive experience in manufacturing and business in a variety of industries.
This award will help Foothold get a jumpstart on building its first homes. “We’ve designed a line of small houses that work well for the way we live in Montana, and customers are lining up,” said Van Wetter, “the next step is to start building.” Foothold has partnered with Lotus Grenier of the Bozeman-based design-build firm Thruline Partners. Through an integrated design process they have four preliminary models, ranging from a 400 SF studio to a 1,700 SF 3 bed, 2.5 bath single family home. These units will be built to meet rigorous standards of energy performance and indoor environmental quality, all with a price tag that won’t break the bank.
The recent boom in real estate, driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, inspired Foothold to target the “missing middle” of housing with their product line. That refers to houses that are affordable for people making between 80% and 120% of the Annual Median Income. “There are a ton of amazing people working in the affordable housing space,” noted Van Wetter, “but there’s a huge gap for the middle earners in our communities – the nurses and teachers that can’t afford houses here.” One of the first products is a small apartment over a two car garage, and it's proving to be very popular in Bozeman. Foothold plans to sell the first units to people who already have land, but looking ahead, Foothold plans to partner with conscientious developers in order to create intentionally designed neighborhoods with an emphasis on healthy living and community wellbeing. “Our vision is a future where all Montanans have access to healthy, dignified housing.”