Garfield County commissioners hesitant on modular home production facility aimed at creating workforce, affordable housing

Ray K. Erku
Post Independent
Clouds hover above land in west Rifle Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley is looking to build a house manufacturing facility.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

GARFIELD COUNTY — Simply providing more affordable housing isn’t the end-all-be-all answer, Rifle’s representative on the Garfield County Commission said.

“We can’t build a house for everybody (for) free and give them money to live on — that is not going to work,” Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson said during the regular commissioners meeting on Monday. “We need, along with affordable housing, jobs where people are self-sufficient.”

Samson said this right before joining Commissioners Tom Jankovsky and John Martin in unanimously approving a $100,000 allocation to the Colorado River Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES), a Parachute-based nonprofit that specializes in creating pathways between local students and careers in technical education. 

The positive sentimentality toward creating jobs locally diminished, however, when Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley later presented a plan to build a facility in Rifle that, according to the proposal, would both teach students how to construct houses while the facility itself manufactures modular homes aimed at creating affordable housing opportunities.

Local Habitat for Humanity President Gail Schwartz requested on Monday that the commissioners approve a letter of support for Habitat to go after a $500,000 grant through the United States Department of Agriculture. If received, the funds would support construction costs of the facility proposed for Rifle.

But the commission, after addressing their own personal concerns over the proposed facility, didn’t immediately vote on the letter and instead asked Schwartz to come back to the next commission meeting to gain approval. They also expressed hesitancy to provide funds for the project if they are requested later on.

“I wish them all the best,” Martin said. “But I don’t see investing county dollars into the program itself.”

The facility was originally proposed to Rifle City Council in late January. The building’s preliminary design is 30,000-50,000 square feet with 24-by-31-foot tall ceilings, county documents show. The facility would be built on a 7.11 acre parcel, which is an old uranium production site, just beside Rifle’s wastewater treatment center on U.S. Highway 6. Rifle calls the vacant site the Energy Innovation Center.

It would use recycled cold-formed metal from a recycling plant in Utah to build homes, and Schwartz said Habitat is already in a partnership with BOCES to run the facility.

If everything goes accordingly, the center is set to build more than 100 affordable modular housing units midway through 2024. Those units will be deed-restricted and be sold to buyers based on area median income (AMI).

“We’re struggling to be able to build homes for the cost of construction today and fulfill our commitment to selling to 80% AMI households,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said right now there is no housing manufacturing facility on the Western Slope geared toward nonprofit production. However, there are two production facilities on the Front Range. 

Eco Dwelling, which inspired Habitat’s newest proposal, opened a modular manufacturing facility just outside Rifle but it’s privately owned.

Schwartz said by localizing a new facility it will control the cost of construction while building a “workforce in our region.”

“Have you noticed what it’s like to get anything through Glenwood Canyon?” she said.

“We wanted to make sure that the county commissioners were aware of (this) because of the incredible economic benefit we think we’ll bring to the region,” she said, “as well as create an advanced manufacturing workforce in this partnership with education and construction.”

Commissioners responded by offering various reasons why they really don’t want the county to get involved. 

Martin compared affordable housing to places like Detroit and how, he argues, it exacerbates the crime rate. 

Samson, despite acknowledging that something needs to be done with affordable housing, said he’s old school and that “I don’t want somebody living on the other side of the wall, above me, below me.” 

Jankovsky worried that by giving any possible funds to a nonprofit to build a modular home manufacturing facility, it would compete directly with private companies, like Eco Dwelling.

“It goes back to private enterprise, the American capitalist free-trade market versus nonprofit,” he said. “Or, for that matter, government housing.”

Habitat for Humanity has most recently built 27 affordable units in Basalt, listed at $270,000-$370,000 apiece. It is currently working with Glenwood Springs to build 18 units and also currently building 20 affordable housing units in south Rifle, some listed as low as $185,000.

“I don’t have a problem with writing a letter and saying we are supportive of your goals and aspirations and so on,” Samson said. “But Tom makes a very good point there. When government gets involved in winners and losers, it creates a mess sometimes.

“I don’t really want to get into that mess.” 

Habitat hopes to start construction on the Rifle facility late this year or early 2024.

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