Just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Livingston resident Beth O’Neill was kicked out of her rented home.

The owner of his property had decided to convert the house into a vacation rental. So she moved in with roommates in Bozeman. Then the pandemic struck. After a rent increase, she couldn’t afford her place at Bozeman. She moved into a van.

“I am a victim of the crazy housing crisis we find ourselves in,” she said.

She lives in a Mercedes Benz van which she converted to operate off the grid. It is parked in a field on a friend’s property near Bozeman Pass.

With a background in carpentry, O’Neill decided to start building a small house as a more stable housing option than his van. Some friends expressed their interest in the house and this is how Lotus Pads: Micro Cabins was born.

Although still an initial start-up – waiting to be an incorporated business – O’Neill is building tiny homes in Livingston that operate ‘off the grid’ in order to tackle the housing shortage in the area.

“This little house is a reflection of the walls I kept bumping into,” she said. “There aren’t enough affordable rentals.

Fueled by a housing shortage exacerbated by the pandemic, O’Neill was not the only one with the same idea.

Several startups in Livingston and the Bozeman area are working to bring smaller homes – with a lower price tag – to the area, in part to combat the shortage of available housing.

Just outside Livingston, Cody Wood and Rick Gilliland are building tiny houses in Wood’s barn. In Butte, a new company is working to bring manufactured homes to towns in Montana.

“I’ve always felt like tiny houses are pretty cool, and we’re all tied to the housing market and that’s insane,” Wood said. “I have three kids and when my oldest graduates, the reality is that she won’t be able to cope on her own in this community.

The couple debuted at Woodland Ridge Tiny Homes in late June during an open house in Livingston.

The first tiny house produced by Woodland Ridge Tiny Homes is parked in its Livingston workshop on Thursday, July 15, 2021.

Wood and Gilliland both have training in contracting and construction. But building small homes has come with a learning curve, said Gilliland.

“It took hours and hours of research and scratching,” he told Livingston on Thursday.

They build tiny, customizable homes on trailers designed to survive the harsh Montana winters.

Their price varies depending on the size. A house they recently completed for Chico Hot Springs cost around $ 78,000, he said.

Little house

The interior of the first cottage produced by Woodland Ridge Tiny Homes is pictured in its Livingston studio on Thursday, July 15, 2021.

Initially, Wood wanted to help pave the way for homeownership for youth, students and families. While this is still his primary focus, Wood was surprised to gain more interest from businesses in the region.

A small house that Wood and Gilliland recently completed has been sold to Chico Hot Springs for employee housing. He asked other companies to find out about mini-homes for employees, he said.

“There are companies that can’t operate efficiently because they don’t have the manpower,” Wood said.

It’s a small startup for now, with Wood and Gilliland building the houses themselves from Wood’s barn, with stray chickens and a few horses, about 10 minutes from Livingston. Wood believes that tiny houses can be a first-time homeownership and life with dignity for employees.

Little house

On Thursday, a horse named Gunner takes a peek into the Woodland Ridge Tiny Homes workshop in Livingston.

In Bozeman, a company founded in March also aims to help people buy more affordable homes. Foothold will manufacture prefabricated homes from Butte that can be delivered to various cities in southwestern Montana, said Hannah Van Wetter, CEO and co-founder of the company.

The homes, ranging in size from 380 square feet to 1,100 square feet, are built at the Butte plant, then installed and delivered.

Small houses, although similar in size to small houses, are built on regular foundations. Many small homes are built on trailers for ease of mobility.

Off-site construction is not dependent on Montana winters and is more environmentally friendly while being less intrusive than on-site construction, Van Wetter said.

“You don’t have to pay for an architect, you don’t have to pay for the engineering costs associated with building a house, and the pre-fabricated method allows us to move smaller, more affordable homes,” she declared.

Maintaining the plant in Butte will also help reduce home shipping costs. The small business has only a handful of employees, but can build the houses in six to eight weeks.

“Prefabricated, fabricated and modular homes, whatever name you choose – it’s not a new idea,” Van Wetter said. “In the 1940s, Sears would make these houses and ship them out on rail cars and put them together on site. “

The company aims to target first-time buyers who own their own land and people wishing to develop secondary accommodation on their property. Secondary secondary buildings are smaller secondary buildings on land, such as a guest house or a mother-in-law.

“By creating more offering at more entry-level numbers and helping with the fill and rental situation, we are building a solution that is tailored to the problems we see in Bozeman and other regions,” she declared.

Secondary suites are a way for municipalities to increase density. But many towns in Montana have yet to adopt second homes.

“This is changing,” Wood said. “I think as this housing crisis continues it will really force local municipalities to really think outside the box. “

Little house

Rick Gilliland, left, and Cody Wood, co-owners of Woodland Ridge Tiny Homes, are pictured in their studio in Livingston on Thursday, July 15, 2021.

Butte, where Foothold is located, does not allow accessory housing units, but is working on zoning laws to allow them, Montana Standard reported. Bozeman allows secondary suites, and some of Van Wetters’ early customers are from Bozeman.

And in Livingston, talks about passing secondary secondary laws are underway. O’Neill is expected to vote in favor of secondary suites at a Town of Livingston committee meeting next week.

Opponents of secondary suites have said it compromises the character of neighborhoods and promotes overcrowding. In Livingston, opponents feared that secondary suites would simply be converted to more commercial housing, Livingston Enterprise reported.

“ADUs are awesome. They don’t create a new sprawl and they maintain the character of the city,” Van Wetter said. “In Bozeman, one and two bedroom units are very difficult to find. It helps people find rentals, or owners to stay in their homes and find a way to supplement their income.”

Among the many barriers to accessibility, small houses may not be a perfect fit for large families, and there are usually additional costs associated with leasing the land where the small house is parked.

“This is by no means a solution for everyone,” said O’Neill.

Small homes will also have a trickle down effect, Wood said. For those who can afford or choose to live in a small house, this will free up other houses and rentals.

“It’s not a quick fix,” Van Wetter said. “It won’t solve all the problems, but it is a small part of the problem.”

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