- Advertisement -
Good InfoAre Sleek Modular Homes the Future of Affordable Housing?

Are Sleek Modular Homes the Future of Affordable Housing?

It seemed ambitious, but the town was on board. “Fading West recognized, ‘Hey, there’s this need, so let’s get creative with how to address it,’” says Benson, Buena Vista’s planning director. “I think that sort of ingenuity can really help address the housing issues here.” 

They’re well on their way. Fading West is now in the middle of a 225-unit development on that parcel Chupp bought six years ago. The first 70 or 80 homes were built using pre-made units from a factory in Nebraska. Now, they’re made in Fading West’s $30 million, Buena Vista-based factory. 

According to Eric Schaefer, Fading West’s head of business development, having a factory allows the company to streamline production, ensure tight quality control and purchase materials at significant bulk discounts. The staff are able to perfect their techniques for a limited style of homes (Fading West offers just six). And it’s easy to train new staff — many of whom are Buena Vista locals — on site. 

A view of the Fading West Factory.A view of the Fading West Factory.
Fading West’s Factor is able to produce a two-bedroom unit in nine days. Courtesy of Fading West

The factory is fast. Every six hours, a home moves from one station to the next on a bed of forced air. Building a home from start to finish takes just nine days. Those numbers often raise eyebrows; Schaefer says a big part of his job is explaining that Fading West’s homes might be quick to build, but they’re also robust.  “They’re built to the same standards as homes built the traditional way,” he says.

“Modular housing used to be your single- and double-wides. Today, that industry has matured significantly,” says McCulloch. 

Fading West now has 170 homes in its Buena Vista development — a neighborhood dubbed The Farm. All are well-insulated, stormproof, and capable of withstanding the strong winds and heavy snows the Rockies are known for. Better yet: Most came in at prices affordable to median income-earners.

Living room of a Fading West home.Living room of a Fading West home.
The look of factory-built homes has come a long way in recent years. Courtesy of Fading West

“Our goal is to make it possible for more people to become homeowners,” Schaefer says. “It’s a life-changing event when you buy your first home. It changes not just your future but that of your kids and your grandkids.” 

Fading West claims it can shave 20 percent of the cost of a home with its manufacturing methods. That’s significant, but on its own, it’s not quite enough to make these homes affordable. The company still needs to rely on land-trust land — which is essentially donated to developers — and government grants and subsidies. Those kinds of public-private partnerships are currently the only way to bring housing costs down to a level considered affordable for low-income families, McCulloch says. 

On its own, “Fading West is not a cure-all,” McCulloch adds. But in a place like Buena Vista where winters are so harsh that homebuilders can only work outdoors a few months out of the year, having a factory can help the town make significant headway in increasing its housing stock. And the more the housing supply grows, the more costs should begin to drop. 

Become a sustaining member today!

Join the Reasons to be Cheerful community by supporting our nonprofit publication and giving what you can.


“This is definitely a solution. Stick-building [i.e., traditional construction] is not the answer,” says Kappel. “Modular construction has to be part of the equation. Affordable housing is a super complicated problem to solve, but building these more quickly will definitely help.”

The trend is picking up in other places, too. The city of Boulder, Colorado, is in the middle of building a 31,375-square-foot modular housing factory that will produce manufactured homes for local residents starting in late 2024. Aurora, Colorado, also passed a resolution earlier this year to increase its use of modular housing. 

A row of Fading West homes at The Farms.A row of Fading West homes at The Farms.
A row of Fading West homes at The Farms. Courtesy of Fading West

In Michigan, local nonprofit Seeds of Promise and modular housing enterprise InnovaLab Development have teamed up on a 25-unit community in Rapids City and a 20-unit community in Muskegon. Both are designed to serve low-income communities.  

Creating an effective affordable housing strategy is often a patchwork of legislation, partnerships and regulatory tools. Fortunately, Buena Vista has a few other tricks up its sleeve. A few years ago, for example, the town realized that one of the best ways to incentivize affordable home building was to keep a tight fist on the city’s water rights. Developers who agree to build affordable housing get priority when it comes to directing the city’s scarce water supply to their developments. That makes it more likely that they’ll get the water allotments they need to launch a new project. 

Many cities — including Buena Vista — have also curbed the proliferation of short-term rentals (STRs), another drain on the housing supply, by instituting license caps. If you want to turn your home into an AirBnB or VRBO, you must first secure one of just a few available STR licenses. That puts more of the city’s limited housing supply in the hands of community members. 

Add to that community land trusts, government subsidies and novel building solutions like Fading West’s, and you’ve got a toolkit that’s equipped to ensure the future of mountain town neighborhoods — and the people who call them home.

All scrolling images appear courtesy of Fading West. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Subscribe Today





Get unlimited access to our EXCLUSIVE Content and our archive of subscriber stories.

Exclusive content

Latest article

More article

- Advertisement -