How One Entrepreneur Is Combating the Housing Crisis

By Margaret Hedderman

This just in: Western Colorado is experiencing an unprecedented housing crunch. From Durango to Steamboat Springs, median home prices are way (way) up – over 100% in some counties – and what little inventory there is, doesn’t stay on the market for long. Though the crisis is mostly attributed to the pandemic, it’s not news that mountain towns have been on the brink of housing shortages and skyrocketing prices for years.   

Rifle, a small town along the I-70 corridor between Grand Junction and Vail, is no exception.

“My husband and I have a couple kids that are in school,” said Emily Hisel, a long-time resident and founder of Copper Key Tiny Homes. “The district often recruits first-year teachers, which is fantastic and they're excited to be here in Colorado, but as soon as they get here, they realize they can't afford a good place to live.”

Hisel said this contributes to a high turnover rate in first-year teachers.

“The kids are suffering because the teachers that come in, leave right away.”

Curious about how she could help combat the issue, Hisel and her husband began tinkering with the idea of a tiny home community. It would help diversify the local housing market, creating affordable rental options for teachers in particular, but also seniors and digital nomads. Both Hisel and her husband have backgrounds in construction and felt confident they could pull it off.  

The Copper Key Tiny Home community will be situated on 15 acres in Rifle, CO.

Two years ago, they acquired 15 acres and developed a concept plan for the community, including two model homes. Once built, the Copper Key Tiny Homes community will feature 184 rental units, plus a community center with a sharable kitchen, gathering areas, and a laundry facility. Hisel said the center will have communal games, tools, and other items that people don’t necessarily need to store in their home.

“Creative solutions really is the name of the game for tiny homes,” she said.

Dedicated tiny home communities are cropping up throughout the country in cities like Portland, Austin, and San Francisco. Colorado, too, has a small, but growing number of communities in Durango, Fairplay, and Woodland Park. A 200 unit community in Salida is currently in development.

But just what does “tiny” mean, exactly?

The most common home is around 400 square feet. Hisel said that their community will have two sizes, 320 square feet and 560 square feet.

The Copper Key Tiny Homes community will have two models, the Bookcliffs (320 square feet) and Anvil Points (560 square feet).

“So tiny is pretty tiny.”

Hisel and her husband are currently working with Garfield County to acquire zoning approval and begin construction. But, as any entrepreneur well knows, funding is key and Hisel is still searching for investors.  

“The chicken and the egg piece right now is that we need the funding to get the zoning approvals, but we need the zoning approvals to get the funding,” she said.

Colorado’s affordable housing crisis is seen as critical threat to the state’s economy. Once considered a fad, tiny homes continue to grow in popularity, despite the pandemic. In fact, the market is expected to increase by 58% by 2025, according to a recent report. Hisel said she hopes investors will begin to see tiny home communities as a viable real estate investment given the state’s housing needs.

“There are other opportunities once we get this this going to go to other locations throughout Colorado or throughout the country,” Hisel said. “We really want to work with investors who see the potential.”

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