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A construction crew member prepare the modular homes, built at the Fading West’s Buena Vista factory, for the new homeowners on Dec., 19, 2022, in Norwood’s Pinion Park. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.

In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.

NORWOOD — The newest residents of Pinion Park are settling into their brand new modular homes as the builders and developers navigate a first-of-its-kind strategy for fixing Colorado’s affordable housing crisis

The first lesson: Don’t ship, assemble and finish the new-school modular homes in winter. 

“It feels good to see it all come to fruition but, yeah, it hasn’t been fun getting through this winter,” said Scott Stryker, whose Stryker and Co. is assembling the community of 24 affordable homes in Norwood. “The first-time to ever do something like this and in winter conditions. I guess we gotta learn sometime and we learned during record snow.”

Norwood’s Pinion Park could be a model for affordable housing in the high country. Modular homes, built in a Buena Vista factory, require minimal construction on site. The rare confluence of public and private efforts — free land from San Miguel County, grants from heavyweight foundations to launch a nonprofit developer and unique lending — has led to this moment as the first residents move into homes next door to the Lone Cone Library. 

It has not been smooth sailing. Hopes of moving in by Thanksgiving or Christmas quickly dimmed as Fading West slowly churned out its first big order of homes, forging its own one-of-a-kind process for home construction in a massive warehouse in Buena Vista.

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The Colorado Sun is following the owners, developer and builders of 24 affordable homes in Norwood’s new Pinion Park community.


The meticulously wrapped homes were shipped over snowy passes. The winter started early in Norwood, a hamlet of about 580 residents a 45-minute drive from Telluride. And it stayed blustery, challenging Stryker’s team as they orchestrated the assembly of what many hope will become an affordable option for community development.

He’s got more Fading West homes to assemble in Ridgway and Ouray soon, part of nonprofit Rural Homes’ mission to deliver housing to middle-income residents in regions where houses cost many millions. 

Stryker admits it’s been challenging. This kind of project has never been done before and the list of changes, adjustments and improvements is longer than his punch list for the 24 homes. 

When Fading West shipped the homes, the factory’s bosses were proud that the two-story structures were nearly ready to occupy. Less than 20% of the home-building work would need to be finished on the site.

A crane places a roof frame ontop of the newly built modular homes, transported from Buena Vista, at Norwood’s Pinion Park in December 2022. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The arrival of the shrink-wrapped boxes — two for each home — posed a staging challenge for Stryker, who designed a process for moving through every home that didn’t require plumbers and electricians to stroll the length of the community looking for materials. 

The tiny staples Fading West workers used to attach insulation to the exterior walls where a garage would be installed did not hold up in the winds of Norwood. 

“These panels just flew all over with a little bit of wind,” Stryker said, pointing to the large-washer nails his crew used to reattach the panels.

And the texture on the walls inside the home is too fine, Stryker said. The cracks in the drywall from hauling the homes across the state meant he had to deploy drywallers and painters to mirror the fine-grain finish used by the factory drywallers. That fine texture is “stacking the deck against us in trying to pull this off,” Stryker said. 

“We are armchair quarterbacking this whole thing,” said Stryker in the early weeks of what would be a six-month construction process. “One thing we know for sure: We can’t do this again in the winter. That’s a deal killer.”

Once a week Stryker is meeting with the Fading West operators, helping to guide the next round of homes that are headed to Ridgway and Ouray. While Fading West honed its manufacturing process in its first year, now is the time to better include builders like Stryker. 

“Some of this stuff is pretty simple and easier to do,” said Stryker, who has developed a computerized process to organize his contractors’ work. After the crane operators from Montrose-based ProSet Construction stacked the homes and workers with the modular construction assembly company bolted the bottom box to the foundation and the top floor to the bottom floor, Stryker’s roofers and garage builders moved in. Then came the plumbers and electricians. 

The system Stryker built — not unlike the flow charts designed by the Fading West factory folks — keeps those different teams moving sequentially through the neighborhood, from door to door. 

Construction crew members assemble the remaining pieces of Fading West’s modular homes placed at the neighborhood at Norwood’s Pinion Park. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

“It’s all about systemizing the process throughout,” he said, offering high praise for the two full-time cleaners he hired who followed the muddy-booted workers out of every home. “Those two are the heroes of this whole thing.” 

There is one thing leaning in Stryker’s favor right now. He has enlisted a framer for his garages who has spent the past several years working only on mansions around Telluride. 

“But now that the residential market is starting to fall off a bit and now they are coming to me and asking what I have and I’m getting interest from people who maybe were not too interested in this work even seven, eight months ago,” Stryker said. 

“Never waste a good downturn,” he said.

Housing scarcity identified as a public health problem

Despite all the challenges, Stryker said the system-built homes from the factory shaved months, maybe even a year off the construction process.

“Could I frame 24 homes in six months? No way,” Stryker said. 

Rural Homes, which was born from a Telluride Foundation initiative to provide homes for less than $400,000 for cops, teachers, government workers and small business owners making about $50,000 a year. The nonprofit, part of the Paradox Community Trust, is planning 14 Fading West homes in Ridgway and communities in Ouray and Naturita. The head of the nonprofit, Paul Major, has gathered $5 million from Colorado philanthropic organizations to offset initial costs of infrastructure. 

A low-interest $2 million loan from the Colorado Health Foundation helped pay for infrastructure and early development costs at Norwood. 

Dr. Ben Bynum, who directs the foundation’s investing, said his group is always looking for “innovative models that lower the cost of the vertical structure.”

The foundation recognized that “health is housing,” program officer Tracey Stewart said.

As the foundation started exploring root causes for chronic health issues, it found a disproportionate number of low-income Coloradans — especially people of color — were suffering medical conditions that would be improved with reliable housing, Stewart said. 

“The notion of actually looking at cause and effect was a big piece of how the Colorado Health Foundation got to Norwood,” Stewart said. “We noticed that nothing else we do will work with folks at lower incomes if they are destabilized by a lack of housing.”

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The foundation is taking up housing policy as a health issue, Stewart said, advocating for zoning that allows more density. The foundation is working to help mobile home residents buy their parks. It supports inclusionary zoning that encourages communities to embrace more diverse building types, like, for example, factory-built homes. It’s also shedding light on resort markets where real estate prices “have become so egregious,” Stewart said. 

Supporting housing in rural communities is a contribution to the region’s economy as well as the overall health of its residents and their opportunities for prosperity, Stewart said. 

“We need to start thinking about housing as space for human beings and not just a commodity,” she said. “I think that when we are using words like units and financing and mortgages we forget there are families behind that and we forget that the way many folks got to where they are is because their parents made an investment in stabilizing their children’s lives with housing. We need to humanize this process. And that’s happening with innovators like Fading West and Rural Homes … they are really driven by human ingenuity to what is really a bizarre crisis.”

Fading West’s modular homes are transported on Interstate 70 on Vail Pass November 2022 in Eagle County. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The foundation’s grant to Rural Homes helped draw other investors to create a pool of money to back mortgages. That lured lenders willing to offer home loans to buyers who maybe would not qualify in the traditional mortgage market. That has inspired Bynum to explore how Colorado Health Foundation endowment dollars — parked in a credit union, say, to back mortgages — can help expand opportunities for homeowners who don’t fit inside traditional underwriting scenarios. (The foundation, which formed in 2006 and was formerly known as the HealthONE Alliance, has a $2.8 billion endowment and distributed $147.3 million in 2020.)

“That is one of the biggest uses of influence we can have as a major corporation,” Stewart said. “Dr. Bynum is asking us to be creative and think about what our bank books can be used for. It’s sent a message that is rippling through all our partners. It’s another way to really disrupt the runaway train that is the real estate market right now. And it shines a light on who true homeowners can be.”

Population boom arrived on Fading West’s trucks

Candy Meehan, the mayor of Norwood, visited the site of her new community regularly. Adding 24 new homes and 80 to 100 new residents to Norwood in a matter of months is easily the biggest population bump ever for her community. There are only a couple homes for sale outside of Pinion Park and prices are way up in the past two years. 

“The housing crisis uphill has caused a housing crisis downhill,” she said, strolling between wrapped Fading West boxes perched on Jenga-like stacks of two-by-fours. 

Norwood Mayor Candy Meehan at Pinion Park in December. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

She loves that the new homes will be energy efficient. And that they will have solar panels as part of a unique partnership among Rural Homes, the Colorado Clean Energy Fund and San Miguel Power that includes the cost of the panels in each resident’s monthly utility bill. 

Norwood had to adjust its land use code to accommodate the increased density of the Pinion Park neighborhood. The community has narrower streets and smaller home lots. 

“It feels like a neighborhood,” Meehan said. 

The school district has property on one side of the community. The Town of Mountain Village owns the open meadows on the other side. 

Pinion Park is the “start of a new chapter” for Norwood, Meehan said, with a model for growth moving forward. As more residents move in, Meehan expects additional tax revenues to support improvements to the town’s water infrastructure. 

“We really want to keep young people in this town and have them raise their families here. This is worth all the challenges,” she said, zipping her parka as the wind whipped through the worksite. “Sure we had hesitation and concerns but as this place takes shape, those things are starting to fade away. It’s not going to be long until everyone sees how amazing this is.”

Jennie Thomas is ready to move in. Her three-bedroom, three-bath home was one of the last to come off the Fading West factory floor. The 20-year resident of the region works as a mental health counselor for both Norwood Public Schools and West End Public Schools down the road in Nucla, Naturita and Paradox. She’s been working with her landlord for more than six months, extending her lease with each delay. She’s antsy.

Norwood resident Jennie Thomas checks out her new home at Pinion Park in December. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

In December she got her first peek inside her home, which is situated on the far corner of the neighborhood, with full sunlight for her family’s greenhouse. There’s a lot more work to do. Stryker’s team needs to add the roof and front porch. She clambers up to the door, where her stoop will eventually be. 

“I am so stoked. This is where my kids are going to sleep,” she said at the top of the stairs as ProSet workers in the crawl space beneath the floor cranked bolts tying the box to the foundation. Outside a worker on a lift is hammering connectors between the top and bottom boxes. Thomas is opening drawers and checking out her new kitchen. 

“This is nice,” she said. “I can’t wait.” 

Jason Blevins

The Colorado Sun — Email: Twitter: @jasonblevins