APX1 Selected as top 25 IVORY PRIZE Finalist

(Builder Magazine January 24, 2019) Today, the Ivory Prize for Housing Affordability announced the nation-wide innovation challenge's Top-25 finalists. Ideas include the three focus areas of construction and design, finance, and, public policy and regulatory reform.

"Our Top-25 represent companies, ideas, and initiatives that are making an immediate impact on housing affordability. Some are further than others, but many show great promise," said Clark Ivory, CEO, Ivory Homes and chairman of the Ivory Foundation. "I am more optimistic about the future of housing affordability in this country after reviewing 126 promising nominees. We are a country built on entrepreneurship and problem solving, and I am very impressed by the outstanding individuals committed to finding new approaches to this complex issue.

This new prize, supported by the Ivory Foundation, recognizes some of the most ambitious, adoptable and innovative solutions to address housing affordability. The Top-25 advance to the final round of judging for the $200,000 national innovation challenge.

"We're thrilled to generate some broader awareness and hopefully share some new ideas for addressing this pressing national issue," said Kent Colton, Ivory Prize Advisory Board Chair. "Narrowing this field to our winners will be extremely difficult due to the quality of many of the ideas. We’re hopeful that just participating in this process will allow a number of these ideas to find new partners or investors or lead to adoption in other places around the country.”

Finalists will be selected during Winter Innovation Summit taking place on February 6-8, 2019. The Summit will bring together policymakers, funders, nonprofits, and social entrepreneurs to explore the future of social innovation across the globe and is hosted by the Sorenson Impact Center at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah.  

The Top-25 include the following:

Construction and Design (Including Rehab) 

Baya Build - https://bayabuild.com/

Baya Build is a technology company that offers a revolutionary, ultra-efficient design-thru-build alternative to developers of housing and commercial structures. Baya’s mission is to build communities that optimize health, promote greater well-being and provide for equitable living. 

Century Partners - www.centurypartners.org 

Century Partners are creating vibrant communities and offering investment opportunities for existing residents and neighbors. Buying full blocks, rehabing, repurposing, and creating a walkable safe community in Detroit

Factory OS - https://factoryos.com/ 

Factory OS is transforming the construction industry by vertically integrating 21st century off-site building technologies, software operating systems, lean manufacturing, & progressive labor practices to deliver multifamily housing more than 40% faster and at 20% lower cost. 

indieDwell - https://indiedwell.com/

indieDwell is a public benefit company which produces healthy, durable, sustainable and energy efficient housing at naturally affordable prices. We are not only reinventing the construction process, but we are empowering our employees and communities we serve.

Module Housing - https://modulehousing.com/ 

Module is re-designing homeownership for the 21st century - buy the amount of house you need today, add on as your family grows, income grows, needs change.  


Common - https://www.common.com/

Common is creating better living through convenience and community. Common members know their neighbors, meet new people, and save money.

Divvy – https://www.divvyhomes.com/

At Divvy, we’re on a bold mission to reinvent homeownership by making it more affordable, more flexible, and a better fit for our customers’ lives. Our customers choose any home for sale, Divvy buys it on their behalf, and they rent the home back while building equity with every payment. 

Dweller - http://www.dweller.com/              

Dweller builds and installs accessory dwelling units (ADUs) using modular construction processes and an innovative ownership structure to drive down the cost of building and owning housing in crowded cities.  

Forterra - https://forterra.org

Forterra strives for a breakthrough in creating affordable, ownable housing through innovative use of material (Cross Laminated Timber), an innovative capital stack that could obviate the need for governmental subsidy, and policy innovation that can take the prototype project, Wadajir, to scale in Washington State and, later, the country.

Home Partners of America - https://www.homepartners.com/

Home Partners has built an innovative financing and operating platform that has enabled thousands of households who currently are not mortgage-qualified to gain access to high quality for-sale listed homes in high quality communities by participating in our Lease-Purchase program.

DC Housing Finance Agency: Housing Investment Platform - http://www.dchfa.org/developers/available-programs/hip/

The Housing Investment Platform (HIP) is a single-family investment program designed to create more affordable housing throughout the District of Columbia.

Landed - https://www.landed.com/

Landed is on a mission to help essential professionals (starting with educators) build financial security near the communities they serve. We invest alongside teachers and school staff when they are ready to buy a home in expensive cities like San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

Neighbor - https://www.neighbor.com/

Neighbor is a peer-to-peer storage marketplace intended to connect hosts with unused space to renters in need of storage. The company's marketplace connects hosts and renters, enabling renters to get storage spaces near them for 50% less than public storages, and hosts to monetize their spaces to help reduce their overall housing cost burden.

Nesterly - https://nesterly.io/

Nesterly tackles the two big challenges of housing affordability and aging in place with one simple solution. Nesterly connects households with spare space to people who are seeking a place to stay for longer than one month.

Point - https://point.com/

Point is a fintech pioneer focused on improving homeowner finances. The company creates innovative home equity products to tackle challenges that traditional loans cannot address.

Turner Captial - https://turnerimpact.com/ 

Turner Impact Capital has one mission: to create innovative and durable solutions to today’s challenges by investing in community-enriching infrastructure in underserved communities. The Turner Multifamily Impact Fund is focused on protecting the supply of affordable workforce housing in urban areas by acquiring, preserving and enriching apartment communities for working individuals and families.

Public Policy and Regulatory Reform (Including Advocacy Groups)

Alley Flat Initiative - http://thealleyflatinitiative.org/

The Alley Flat Initiative is a program of the Austin Community Design and Development Center (ACDDC), a 501(c)3 nonprofit design and planning organization working with residents, public institutions, and service providers to identify resource gaps and build collaborative relationships to address them.  

APX1 - https://apx1.co

APX1 is the first nationwide effort to address the core issues resort-based mountain towns face. Apx1 began as a research project established to analyze the affordability gap in U.S. resort-based mountain communities and is now focused on three initiatives: research and lobby, impact investment, and workforce housing development.

Buncombe County - www.buncombecounty.org            

Buncombe County is working to assist private and non-profit developers in providing housing low to moderate income families. Their efforts creating more affordable housing through unique zoning and density bonuses for developments that include affordable or workforce housing units. 

Hello Housing - http://www.hellohousing.org

Hello Housing works in close partnership with its government partners to help them make and maintain housing investments -- from scattered-site, infill development to Below Market Rate homeownership programs -- that break cycles of poverty and benefit low- and moderate-income communities for generations to come.

FinRegLab - https://finreglab.org

FinRegLab is a nonprofit innovation center that tests new technologies and data to inform public policy and drive the financial sector toward a responsible and inclusive financial marketplace. With our research insights, we facilitate discourse across the financial ecosystem to inform public policy and market practices.

Jackson | Main Architecture - https://www.jacksonmain.com/

Jackson | Main Architecture is an award-winning architecture and interior design practice with offices in Seattle and Kansas City. JMA has been working closely with municipalities from the director level to building inspectors, advocating for and developing a modular housing inspection and review protocol. This effort has been undertaken knowing that critical mass in affordable modular housing cannot be achieved unless all projects can benefit from more informed elected officials and municipal policies. JMA is also working towards developing standardized building plans and specifications, increased municipal outreach and education, new AIA contracts addressing the typical modular scope, and the need to reinvent the traditional public financing model. These challenges are currently being studied by the newly formed “Affordable Factory Built Housing Workgroup,” which is chaired by JMA leaders.

Califorina YIMBY - https://cayimby.org/

California YIMBY is a community of neighbors who welcome more neighbors. We believe that an equitable California begins with abundant, secure, affordable housing. We focus on housing and land use policy at the state and local level to ensure grassroots organizers and city leaders have the tools they need to accelerate home building. We are building a grassroots movement and empowering local YIMBY organizations to lay the groundwork for more housing construction for people of all income levels, which will reduce displacement, temper home prices and rents, and allow California communities to grow responsibly.

Housing Consortium - https://www.housingconsortium.org/

HDC is a nonprofit membership association with 174 members all working towards the vision of ensuring all people live with dignity in safe, healthy, and affordable homes within communities of opportunity. As an advocate, broker and convener for their members, HDC has supported and inspired its members for three decades. As advocate, HDC works at city, county and state level for policies that increase funding, opportunity, and ability to produce and preserve more affordable homes. As broker, they build relationships between sectors to create a comprehensive strong voice for affordable housing and also convene members for training opportunities, leadership development, and networking.

Utah Housing GAP Coalition – www.utahhousinggap.com

The Salt Lake Chamber commissioned a landmark study on housing affordability from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. To the best of our knowledge, this is the only study of its kind in the nation that proactively addresses the housing affordability issue before a crisis hits like we see today in San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle. You can read the full study here. In lieu of the findings in the report, the Chamber is ready to meet the housing affordability threat head-on by launching a new initiative, the Housing GAP Coalition. `1The overall objective of the GAP Coalition is to eliminate the annual gap in housing units and eventually erase the state’s 50,000+ housing unit deficit. A secondary objective of the Housing Gap Coalition is to shape public opinion and public policy to achieve these goals

Ivory Innovations believes that dedicating time, talent and funding to solving the crisis in housing affordability can create momentum for change in the housing market and improve the quality of life for millions. The hope is that no one will be priced out of reasonable housing. 

The prize also will give students the opportunity to become the next generation of housing affordability experts, with the creation of the Innovation Lab for Housing Affordability. The class, a partnership between Ivory Innovations and the Eccles School, allows students the chance to investigate and perform due diligence on the companies nominated, giving them insights into the housing market, as well as valuable contacts in the housing industry.

Natalie SpencerComment
Sky-High Affordability Gap Strains Ski Town Economies

JANUARY 17, 2019

Mountain communities across the West huddle in Vail to discuss the challenges of high costs of living, low-paying jobs and a scarcity of places to live.

VAIL, Colo. — Everyone has a housing hardship story in a ski town: camping, living in cars, six people in a two-bedroom condo, massive rent increases. Experiences that at one time or another had them seriously questioning whether it was worth it to chase the dream of living in a place most people only aspire to vacation in.

In mountain resort communities from Tahoe to Jackson to Aspen, jobs are typically low-paying, the cost of living is sky-high, and housing is scarce and extremely expensive. And more and more people are deciding that living the dream is a financial nightmare. They’re leaving town and leaving businesses that already struggle to find enough workers season in and season out.

Developers, town and county officials, impact investors and housing experts from 26 mountain communities across the West met in Vail this week to try to solve that Rubik’s Cube of supplying enough workforce housing to keep restaurants running, schools staffed and chairlifts churning. In addition, those at the inaugural U.S. Mountain Community Summit also grappled with the parallel problem of providing enough middle- to upper-income housing for key professionals.

“Where do you get housing that accommodates somebody who can afford to spend $500,000 to $1 million? That's really the group that the housing shortage has priced out in mountain towns,” said Adam Ducker, who directs the Urban Real Estate Advisory Group at RCLCO Real Estate Advisors.

“People really can work remotely,” Ducker added. “There really is a lot of upper-income employment growth in Eagle County [Vail] and Pitkin County [Aspen] and other places like this—technical jobs, creative jobs, engineering jobs, jobs with the large employers. So there will be a lot more potential customers trying to compete in a market that's underserved.”

That was the realization APX1 founder Natalie Spencer came to when the Idaho native returned to live in Sun Valley after years of working on refugee resettlement, water policy and infrastructure issues in remote areas of Asia and Africa.

“I had moved back to Sun Valley and I was complaining [to a wealthy friend] how in the seven years that I was gone, it had turned into Jackson Hole and there was no place to live for someone making six figures and what was available was terrible,” Spencer said.

“It wasn't for a family, it wasn't for professionals, it’s kind of these dumpy ski-bum houses. And he turned around and looked at me and said, ‘You know, why don't you solve something in your own backyard?’”

That was the genesis of a six-month research project that culminated in the creation of APX1, which combines a full-service development company with an impact-investment network, and ultimately itssummit of thought leaders from around the country. The APX1 mission is to address the affordability gap for people making 50 to 300 percent AMI, or area median income.

“I found that the affordability gap in most of these resort towns was much greater than the majority of the U.S.,” Spencer said. “People aren't used to talking about workforce housing for people making 300 percent AMI. That seems absurd, right? This is very much addressing the missing middle, if you will.”

In places where median family income may only be $70,000 a year but median single-family home values are 10 times that amount, Spencer says the problem cannot be solved without committed impact investors, which she identifies as someone willing to agree to a 10 percent internal rate of return over 30 years versus a typical 30 percent return on investment in three years.

“These are philanthropic dollars that instead of receiving no return receive a very secure, long-term, lower-yield return, which is what impact investment’s all about,” Spencer said. “I raised all of the capital for my last company, a couple of million dollars, on the chairlift. It's an incredible format. Everyone talks about the elevator pitch. There's nothing sexy about an elevator.”

Hence the location of the first summit, where attendees broke up into groups after morning panel discussions and headed out onto the slopes to talk public-private partnerships, innovative funding mechanisms and best practices for solving a seemingly intractable problem.

“Workforce housing is consistently listed as the top pain point for local businesses with regards to business growth and employee retention,” said Chris Romer, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership chamber of commerce. “We’re not unique. Mountain resort communities across the country are faced with similar challenges.”

Vail has developed both workforce housing and some new affordable townhomes aimed at that “missing middle,” and now the town is working with the ski company, Vail Resorts, on even more employee units. But perhaps its most ambitious effort is its relatively recent Vail InDEED program aimed at deed-restricting 1,000 more housing units by 2027, for a total of 1,700.

In exchange for a negotiated fee, the property must then be occupied by someone working at least 30 hours a week in Eagle County—whether it’s the owner or a renter— and there’s no appreciation cap placed on the unit when it sells, although the deed restriction transfers to the new buyer.

Vail Housing Director George Ruther says partnerships with private-sector developers and local businesses like Vail Resorts are absolutely vital because there’s a great deal of taxpayer risk associated with public development. That’s one of the reasons he’s so high on the Vail InDEED program, which simply preserves existing homes for local workers with minimal impacts.

“Every one of those dwelling units that we acquire comes with no development risk,” Ruther said. “We're not out speculating, it's existing land that's already there, it's an existing home in an existing neighborhood, so there’s no increase in density or impacts from construction or traffic. It kind of takes that NIMBY [not in my backyard] argument completely off the table.”

And in a narrow eight-mile-long town at the bottom of a steep mountain valley surrounded by the U.S. Forest Service, land to build on is becoming more and more scarce, pushing development 30, 40, even 50 miles to the west. What little private land there is usually comes with a big price tag and major hurdles for the few developers willing to do business in the workforce market.

“The biggest obstacle that we see to delivering workforce housing is constantly about the math problem,” said Kimball Crangle of Wisconsin-based Gorman development company. “We don’t get lumber for a discounted rate because we’re delivering workforce housing. Concrete isn’t cheaper because we’re delivering workforce housing. The entitlement process, sadly, in the communities that we work in is often not expedited because we’re delivering workforce housing.

“But subsidy is required. We are deliberately limiting our net operating income and the debt we can carry on the property to make sure the people we are housing can afford to live there.”

One solution to cost issues, perennial labor shortages and dicey construction weather in mountain communities can be modular construction—or building the majority of a housing unit offsite and trucking it to its permanent location. The last couple of Vail projects have been modular.

Brian Abramson, co-founder and director of business operations for Seattle-based Method Homes—a sustainable prefab company—says modular construction could help better address the acute housing crunch both in mountain communities and urban areas.

“The same problems that are happening in mountain towns are amplified in our market because of dramatic cost of living increases, real estate increases, so, especially in the affordable housing space, there’s a lot of skepticism [of modular in Seattle], more so than I heard here, which is actually really validating to hear how much it’s been embraced in the mountain communities,” Abramson said.

Microsoft recently announced it’s spending $500 million to address the affordable housing crisis in the Seattle metro area where the company is based.

Steve Glenn, founder of Rialto, Calif.-based Plant Prefab—the first sustainable prefabricated home factory in the nation—said another Seattle tech company, Amazon, recently invested in his company. From both a lower cost and environmental standpoint, Glenn thinks his homes can help solve the affordable housing problem both in mountain communities and in urban settings.

“Minneapolis just got rid of all single-family zoning. If you have a home in a single-family home zone area, you can now do multi-family anywhere in Minneapolis,” Glenn said. “Obviously, the number of units are limited by the size of your lot, but that’s spectacular. That’s going to have a dramatic effect on creating more housing more efficiently. I hope more cities do this.”

Natalie Spencer
"Romer: Vail to host housing summit Jan. 14 — 17, will focus on action"

Chris Romer January 3, 2019

In 2017, Vail Valley Partnership and Vail Symposium hosted the NIMBY Jamboree. This event was designed to build on the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) pejorative characterization of opposition by residents to a proposal for new development because it is close to them, often with the connotation that such residents believe that the developments are needed in society but should be farther away.

In many cases, NIMBYs are the problem as they continually rally against "those people" living in their neighborhoods. This despite the fact is we are all "those" people. We need to continue to work together to not just oppose things but instead to be proactive to create a healthy community.

The purpose of the NIMBY Jamboree was just that: to create a healthy community through workforce housing.

Eagle County has experienced solid momentum since the 2017 program, with approvals of projects in Gypsum, Eagle, Edwards and Vail. We have a long way to go based on the most recent housing needs assessment, but we're on the right track with programs such as Vail Indeed and innovative public-private partnerships such as Two10 at Castle Peak in Eagle and 6 West Apartments in Edwards.

Given our momentum in housing and the continued need for more to help retain community members and support our business community, we are happy to host the inaugural U.S. Mountain Community Summit in Vail for three days of solutions-based presentations and panel discussions to address the affordability gap in resort-based mountain towns. The 2019 event will focus on workforce housing and kicks off at The Lodge at Vail and Donovan Pavilion Jan. 14 to 17.

In collaboration with APX1, Vail Resorts, the town of Vail, RCLCO and Vail Valley Partnership, the summit brings private and public sector stakeholders together from 26 mountain communities, including real estate developers, land planners, business leaders, policy makers and impact investors.

"We conceptualized the U.S. Mountain Community Summit to join private and public sector forces to address issues critical to U.S. mountain communities," said Natalie Spencer, the founder of APX1 and the summit's principal organizer. "The event is geared toward decision-makers and professionals who rely on healthy economies and communities to thrive in their given region."

The summit's goal is to provide stakeholders with actionable information, support networks and access to financing to help facilitate best-practice community building solutions. The program includes three days of solutions-based programing and networking opportunities.

Attendees include renowned impact investors, real estate analysts, workforce housing developers and key stakeholders from 26 mountain regions. The speaker lineup includes community thought leader Cameron Sinclair, impact investor Jeremy Keele, APX1 founder Natalie Spencer, Plant Prefab founder Steve Glenn, RCLCO Director Adam Ducker and Whistler Sustainability Director Cheeying Ho, to name a few.

Day three — named the YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) Jamboree — will focus on Eagle County housing efforts, a "state of the union" report, panel discussions and an interactive roundtable discussion on how we move from "Not in My Backyard" to "Yes in My Backyard."

The event is limited to 100 attendees. Those interested in participating in the summit are encouraged to reserve seats in advance and tickets are available for Eagle County citizens for day three only. For more information and to register for the summit, visit the U.S. Mountain Community Summit Invitation link or apx1.co for up-to-date programing.

Be part of the solution as we will provide stakeholders with actionable information, support networks and access to financing to help facilitate best-practice community building solutions.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalley partnership.com.

Natalie Spencer
"Vail hosts 4-day summit featuring workforce, affordable housing leaders from 26 mountain communities"

By David O. Williams Special to the Daily January 13, 2019

Long identified as a critical problem in ski towns across the West, the lack of affordable housing in mountain communities has reached a crisis culminating in this week's U.S. Mountain Community Summit Monday through Thursday in Vail — a ticketed confab of 100 impact investors, developers, land planners and business leaders working on public-private partnership solutions.

"One of the reasons we decided to host the event in Vail was, following extensive research analysis, we discovered that the town of Vail has one of, if not the most, progressive deed restriction philosophies and programs," said Natalie Spencer, founder of summit organizer APX1. "It's absolutely appropriate for us to host this in a community that's pioneering one of the solutions."

The summit is a collaboration with Vail Resorts, the Vail Valley Partnership, RCLCO Real Estate Advisors and the town of Vail. It features workforce and affordable housing thought leaders from 26 mountain communities.

"We've spent so much time focusing on the problem, and I think everybody gets the problem," town of Vail Housing Director George Ruther said. "People are coming to this to participate in a solutions-based conversation about how we address the problem. In the last year or two we've made significant headway and we have some real momentum behind this housing conversation."

'We all have a housing problem'

In 2017, Vail launched a plan called Vail InDeed aimed at deed-restricting an additional 1,000 units by 2027, bringing the total number of deed-restricted housing units (with restrictions on short-term rental and local work requirements for occupants) to 1,700. Ruther says the program is on course to meet those goals, even without a dedicated long-term funding source.

Ruther added he's very interested in what Vail InDeed 2.0 will look like and whether its success can be duplicated in other ski towns from Sun Valley, Idaho, to Jackson, Wyoming, to Lake Tahoe, California.

"We all have the same tools in our toolbox, which are inclusionary zoning and commercial linkage and development impact fees and such, and we all have a housing problem," Ruther added. "The Vail InDeed program was an effort to look at a new and more innovative approach because the approaches that we've been using just haven't been solving the problem."

And that problem has led to local businesses folding or scaling back services when they could actually be expanding if there was enough available labor, according to Ruther and representatives of the business community.

"Workforce housing is consistently listed as the top pain point for local businesses with regards to business growth and employee retention," Vail Valley Partnership President and CEO Chris Romer said. "And we're not unique. Mountain resort communities across the country are faced with similar challenges."

Spencer says mountain towns need to band together because no one community has all the answers and no one company can offer all of the solutions. Romer agrees that seemingly competing destinations can find strength in numbers and offer regional solutions that will benefit the entire outdoor recreation and mountain tourism industry.

"We're fortunate to be able to host the inaugural summit and expect attendees will learn new practices, reinforce best practices and learn from others to strengthen their local efforts," Romer said. "We believe we're better together and the U.S. Mountain Community Summit is a great example of peer learning."

'Leveraging private-public partnerships'

Spencer comes at the housing crunch with a global perspective, having grown up in Idaho and then traveled extensively after launching companies dedicated to solving complex problems from food security to water scarcity to infrastructure challenges in remote mountain communities around the globe that are "geo-fenced" by nature.

Returning to Sun Valley to raise a family, she realized the severe housing challenges facing even middle- to higher-income people trying to find a way to live and work in mountain communities across the West. An "impact investor" friend then challenged her to find some innovative solutions. Thus began a six-month study that led to the first U.S. Mountain Community Summit.

A former ski racer and a certified ski guide, Spencer discounts the notion of the "elevator pitch" in favor of the "chairlift pitch" to network and get deals done. There's a heavy dose of that approach in the three-day summit schedule, along with the requisite panels and discussions. Those topics range from the potential of prefabs to incentivizing investment in aging resort real estate to new workforce housing solutions to innovations in impact investment.

"You cannot solve this problem without committed impact investors," Spencer said "And for us that's a very specific definition. These are folks who have pre-agreed to a 10 percent IRR (Internal Rate of Return) for 30 years … That's a very unique investor, right? A normal developer is looking for like a 30 to 40 percent return on investment in three years."

It's a philanthropic mindset that's aimed at improving a community with a lower, longer-term yield. It will take public policies coupled with that kind of private investment to solve the problem, Spencer adds, and she's echoed by others versed in the workforce housing world.

"From Vail to Gypsum, the Eagle River Valley community has prioritized bringing on new housing projects by thinking creatively and leveraging private-public partnerships," said Kristin Kenney Williams, of Commfluent Inc., a political affairs consultant and a member of the Eagle County Housing Task Force who's helping to organize the summit.

"Being able to learn from thought leaders and impact investors from across our fellow mountain resort communities in an ongoing dialogue will help us achieve new opportunities," Kenney Williams added. "Vail and our surrounding towns were built on bold and collaborative ideas and bringing that passion to housing will ensure one strong community."

For more information on the first U.S. Mountain Community Summit today through Thursday in Vail, visit the APX1 website at http://www.apx1.co.

Natalie Spencer
"Not stack-a-shack’ anymore: can modular homes save ski towns?"

By David O. Williams Special to the Daily January 17, 2019

VAIL — Can modular homes solve the affordable housing crisis in Vail and other ski towns across the West, and maybe even save the planet as an added benefit? Maybe, but it's still early days in the prefab revolution, cautioned developers and experts in the modular industry this week at the inaugural U.S. Mountain Community Summit in Vail.

"It’s an evolving industry that is getting better every day," said Michael O'Connor, principal and chief operating officer of Triumph, the development company that used modular construction at the Town of Vail's Chamonix local's housing project in West Vail. "I'm a believer. But it's got its own unique challenges."

Triumph is also currently undertaking a 139-unit modular project in Truckee, Calif., with three different prefab companies providing the units that are predominantly built in a factory setting and then shipped to the development site. The idea is to control variables in on-site traditional construction such as mountain weather, pricey local labor and other factors.

"So many people are recognizing the difficulties that California is kind of leading the country in, like limited labor pool, very expensive local subcontractor base, projects too expensive, taking way too long to build," O'Connor said. "You can control that risk by doing it in a controlled environment in a factory and get two-thirds of the project built and limit your exposure."

Lean and green

Steve Glenn, founder and CEO of Plant Prefab in Rialto, Calif., said modular construction can streamline the building process, cut down on waste and basically make buildings so much more efficient and environmentally sustainable.

Buildings as a category in the United States, Glenn said, consume more energy through lighting, heating and cooling (39 percent) than both industry (29 percent) and transportation (32 percent), adding that 40 percent of all raw materials that are extracted on the planet are used for building materials.

"So the bad news for those us who believe there is increasingly bad climate change is that the buildings that we live in and play in and learn in and work in are the worst of all," said Glenn, whose company spun off of LivingHomes, which has had dozens of its homes LEED certified. "The good news is the technology to dramatically reduce the energy, water and resource use exists, and it's increasingly no more expensive than non-sustainable materials."

Plant Prefab uses certified materials that reduced outgassing, solar energy, far more efficient insulation and more of it than is mandated, LED lights, energy efficient appliances and water systems that recycle for irrigation. Their homes are modular but very contemporary, and actually cost-competitive in the Vail Valley, O'Connor said after Glenn's presentation.

Fixing the financial lag

The problem is that California and other more populous West Coast states are sucking demand their way, and modular companies have recognized they can get $120 a foot out there and maybe only $100 a foot in Colorado, so they're heading west, O'Connor said. There are some start-up companies coming into Colorado, including one in Grand Junction, but Chamonix units were trucked in from a company in Boise, Idaho, called Nashua, and transport adds costs.

While Chamonix made sense as a modular project, O'Connor said it's not a slam dunk that future workforce or local's housing projects in Vail will continue to be cheaper and more efficient with prefab. One of the hurdles is financing, with most banks refusing to close on construction loans until a building permit is pulled, but modular companies want their money up front.

"Financing it is completely out of synch with what's typical, and that's challenging," O'Connor said. "The financing community has not completely figured it out, but they're coming around."

Glenn said US Bank has started working on modular-specific loan products that could reverse that trend, but he admits his company has yet to do an affordable housing project in a mountain community. Neither has Brian Abramson, co-founder and director of business operations for Seattle-based Method Homes, which has worked in ski towns on the market-force side.

A solution to a crisis

Abramson strongly believes modular construction, especially technological advances like wet-core construction — with all the rooms with plumbing prebuilt — can help solve the acute housing crisis in both urban and mountain communities.

"The same problems that are happening in mountain towns are amplified in our market because of dramatic cost of living increases, real estate increases, so, especially in the affordable housing space, there's a lot of skepticism [of modular in Seattle], more so than I heard here, which is actually really validating to hear how much it's been embraced in the mountain communities," Abramson said.

Microsoft on Wednesday announced it's spending $500 million, mostly on loans, to help solve the housing crisis in the Seattle metro area, where it's based, and Amazon has committed $2 billion to combat homelessness across the nation. Amazon is also an investor in Plant Prefab, Glenn said, adding he'd like to see policymakers begin regulating with modular in mind.

That could include onsite building inspections at the modular factories, or even zoning laws that are more amendable to multi-family modular projects.

"Minneapolis just got rid of single-family zoning. If you have a home in a single-family home zone area, you can now do multi-family anywhere in Minneapolis," Glenn said. "Obviously, the number of units are limited by the size of your lot, but that's spectacular. That's going to have a dramatic effect on creating more housing more efficiently. I hope more cities do this."

Glenn doesn't see that necessarily happening in mountain towns, but it's a solution for cities, and O'Connor said more and more modular companies such as Glenn's and Abramson's are building beautiful contemporary prefab homes that anyone would want to live in.

"It’s not like a trailer anymore," O'Connor laughed. "It's not stack-a-shack."

Natalie Spencer
"Vail Valley developers urge cooperation, flexibility for workforce housing"

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.

VAIL — If you want more workforce housing, it's crucial to break down some barriers.

A Thursday gathering at Donovan Pavilion, which was part of this week's U.S. Mountain Community Summit, was dubbed the "YIMBY Jamboree," and focused on topics including ways to make it easier to build workforce housing.

During one of the morning sessions, a group of developers, architects and others gathered around a table to talk about ways to get workforce housing projects done.

The discussion was led by Michael O'Connor of Triumph Development, the Vail firm that led the Chamonix Neighborhood townhome project.

O'Connor noted that Triumph and town officials worked together closely to get the project approved, built and opened. That project was in the discussion phase for several months. But once the project was submitted to the town's approval process in early 2017, things happened quickly. Construction began in April of that year, and the first owners moved into their new homes in early January 2018.

Chamonix was also self-financed by the town of Vail, to the tune of roughly $17 million — all of which was repaid through unit sales. That helped speed up construction, and saved a lot of money in financing costs, O'Connor said. Other kinds of help There aren't a lot of local governments that can write checks that size. But other kinds of town help are also important.

Joanna Hopkins' firm last year worked on a Broadway Station, a new apartment project in Eagle. Hopkins said Broadway Station received a "huge" parking variance from the town, which allowed the project to move forward.

Kelly Herzog works for a firm that recently started a 77-unit project in Gypsum. Herzog said a town waiver for water tap fees saved the firm enough money to make the difference in doing the project or not.

Red Cliff Town Manager Barb Smith told the group that a developer is building on nine lots in town. To help ease the burden, tap fees for water service aren't payable until the units are sold.

Asked about possible property tax relief, Smith told the group that Red Cliff needs that revenue, given its limited sales tax base.

But, O'Connor said, property tax relief is available. O'Connor noted that developers, with the help of local housing authorities, can request property tax waivers for projects.

During a later panel discussion, Gerry Flynn of Polar Star Properties noted that $150,000 in property tax relief can enable a developer to finance another $2 million on a project.

Communication is critical

Local Realtor and developer Michael Routh told the group what he'd most like to see is a more thorough understanding of just what's expected of developers, and what tools are available to make projects possible.

That includes various officials and departments understanding what they're asking of developers.

"They need to allow staff to collaborate with developers," Routh said.

That saves both time and money.

During an afternoon panel discussion, Steve Spessard, whose firm developed the 6 West apartments in Edwards, said those costs can be significant.

Spessard said the costs of fees and permits at 6 West added up to more than $2 million. Spessard said his firm just broke ground on a much larger project in Houston. There, those costs were about $400,000.

Reducing tax burdens and other costs is part of what O'Connor said should be close cooperation with local government.

During the approval and construction of Chamonix, O'Connor worked closely with George Ruther, the town's current housing director who was at the time head of the Vail Community Development Department.

O'Connor recalled that Ruther once told him that getting a project from drawing board to completion was a bit like hitting a home run in baseball. The hitter still has to touch all the bases, but that can be done quickly.

"It's working efficiently versus expediting something," O'Connor said.

Natalie Spencer
"Affordable housing crisis threatens vitality of Colorado’s high-country economies"

The Colorado Sun — jason@coloradosun.com

First-ever Mountain Housing Summit looks for ways to move developers toward “missing middle” projects, and that may mean focusing on wealth creation rather than wealth extraction.

VAIL — Willa Williford, an affordable housing consultant who has worked across Colorado’s high country, this week tallied some classified ads in the Crested Butte News. In Wednesday’s edition of her hometown paper there were 85 listings for jobs, from entry-level gigs to high-paying executive jobs. There were 11 listings for rental properties, most of them seeking roommates. And the back of the paper was heavy with color ads for homes in a region where the average price exceeds $1 million. “Housing is one of the key components to our long-term sustainability as communities,” Williford said. “So why are we not building more affordable housing?”

Affordability is at crisis level in Colorado’s mountain communities, where income gains are not nearly matching the soaring cost of housing. Construction and labor costs are skyrocketing, with developers understandably focused on high-return luxury projects. Investors are parking money in resort-area real estate — usually paying cash and easily pushing out locals who have to borrow to buy. 

This week in Vail, the cacophonous chorus echoing across the West’s increasingly pricey high country joined together at the first U.S. Mountain Communities Summit. Dozens of planners, developers and civic leaders led the summit’s choir, stirring conversations and uncovering possible solutions to a housing crisis that threatens the character and sustainability of mountain communities. “This work is hard. It’s multifaceted. There’s no perfect answer and solutions will always elude us, but it’s so worthwhile,” Williford said on Thursday, the final day of the four-day summit.

The summit was sponsored by APX1 Partners, a group that provides community-building resources for mountain development and investment. Natalie Spencer founded APX1 less than a year ago with hopes of creating a “knowledge bank” where mountain communities developers and leaders could find policy solutions, such as agreements for residents in deed-restricted housing or development plans for projects that can house a wide array of residents and income levels. 

“So we can leverage off of each other’s wins and potentially circumnavigate the losses. So if something isn’t working consistently in Telluride or Jackson, we will be able to know that right away,” Spencer said. “That’s how we can get communities out of the cyclical conversation of ‘This is our problem,’ and into the very proactive, solution-based dialogue.”

These mountain-community confabs tend to dissolve into group commiseration. The lamentations shared across resort landscapes often are similar. Construction workers have fled for jobs in disaster-ravaged communities like Houston. Prices for land and homes continue to climb. Old building codes prevent density. The lack of affordable housing is starving an already emaciated workforce. Workers in far-flung communities are spending hours commuting. 

But this rally included a celebration of affordable housing successes, where walkable communities of diverse residents are thriving. They are places where low-income families mingle with second-homeowners and middle-class locals. In the parlance of mountain housing, these are hoods that combine residents earning somewhere between 30 percent and 300 percent of the average median income. 

Places such as:

  • Chamonix Vail, a 32-home affordable neighborhood in West Vail, which involved the  Town of Vail financing more than $17 million for construction.

  • Miller Ranch in Edwards, which offers 282 deed-restricted homes.

  • Anthracite Place and the under-construction Paradise Park, in Crested Butte.

These neighborhoods offer the so-called “missing middle” housing. They aren’t always apartments for seasonal workers and they aren’t million-dollar homes that demand impossible monthly mortgage payments. They are middle-class friendly, populated with the architects, doctors and business owners who keep communities vibrant. 

“As mountain communities evolve this segment of our population is very important,” said Melissa Sherburne, the head of acquisitions for the innovative Brynn Grey Partners, which has developed innovative communities in Summit County, including Wellington, Peak One and 24 new “micro-condos” at the mixed-use Basecamp project. Sherburne lives in Peak One. “We are raising families … we are dedicated to our communities and we give back in so many ways.”

Part of the summit’s sessions fell under the banner of the “YIMBY Jamboree,” with speakers focusing on how to dispel the notion that affordable housing development brings negative impacts. The YIMBY Jamboree — the tongue-in-cheek offshoot of Eagle County’s year-round housing taskforce — is pushing to overcome the overwhelming “Not In My Backyard” chants that engulf just about all density development projects in the mountains. 

“How do we make the development process easier and more attractive?,” said Dr. Bobby Lipnick, a long-term Vail resident who helped found the jamboree. “There are a lot of people in our community who say no more growth. They say they got here in the 60s or 70s and it’s time to just stop. We need to stand up and meet with YIMBYs in the room to offset the NIMBYs who are often loud and incredibly vocal.”

But Lipnick pointed to 5.7 million residents in Colorado, 3.3 million of them living on the Front Range. “Those people are going to come up here in the next 25 to 30 years,” he said. “We need to think about smart growth and responsible growth and not bury our heads in the sand.”

Communities of local residents in resort valleys are critical to high-country economies. And they are endangered. Without homes for employees, businesses falter. But in these land-constrained corridors, property and construction costs are high and developers understandably are drawn to erecting single-family castles that sell for millions. But then those homes sit unused for most of the year, owned by investors who reap appreciation that often beats traditional investments. 

“If I had a magic wand I would wave it at the 1 percent who own the homes in our beautiful  state, the homes that are dark … 348 days of the year. If I had a magic wand, a social-justice wand, I would wave it and say you are buying into a community and let’s focus on a wealth-creation model instead of wealth extraction,” said Chantal Unfug, the director of Colorado’s Division of Local Governments during a panel discussion on Thursday. 

Unfug pointed to the state’s Rural Economic Development Initiative, the Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s Rural Jump-Start program and the new federal Opportunity Zone designations as ways to entice developers to projects with incentives and tax breaks. And not just large-scale developers, said Clark Anderson, the head of Glenwood Springs’ non-profit Community Builders, which works with rural and resort communities in fostering smart growth. 

Anderson said the mountains need to grow “developer capacity.” “Looking at the scale of problems in these communities, we have to empower an army of smaller mom-and-pop developers that can expand housing choices and affordability,” Anderson said. They won’t build a mid-rise apartment complex, but they can build a four-unit complex on a single-family lot.

“We need to build that capacity in the development community,” said Anderson, who uses the same “civic capacity” idea to encourage progressive candidates in joining local planning commissions and town boards to spur innovative growth. And the YIMBYs need to show up at planning and town hall meetings, said a trio of big-project developers. 

“The NIMBYs show up at every single project. It doesn’t matter if the basis of their opposition is factual,” said developer Gerry Flynn, whose construction costs have climbed four times in the last year as builds 282 apartments on a site in Gypsum abandoned by a previous developer after $18 million was spent. “Part of the goal of the community should be to show up in significant numbers to at least outnumber the NIMBYs and probably be more credible.”

If mountain communities want to address their critical supply-and-demand housing problem, it will require more than market forces, especially to develop homes that locals can afford, developers and municipal leaders say. Steve Spessard is building 120 apartment units in Edwards. His 6 West project, adjacent to a massive mobile home community, spent $2 million on impact fees and the Eagle County planning process. Impact fees and entitlements on a larger, more complex project his company is developing in Houston cost about $400,000.  

“That translates into real differences in rent amounts,” said Spessard, who has a list of 150 people ready to move-in when 6 West opens later this year. “If you are a government entity or you are a utility provider, figure out ways to say ‘yes’ sometimes Or maybe even ‘if’ instead of ‘no.’ ”


Natalie Spencer