Housing First Village
Tiny Homes, Tremendous Impact
A new community for previously unhoused residents also means cost savings for city
The doors are open at Housing First Village, a community of 12 tiny homes developed by the not-for-profit Human Resources Development Council of District IX (HRDC). The community was developed to house Bozeman residents who were previously chronically unhoused and often needed crisis support services. This 6.5-acre site is not just a stable and affordable place to live ― it also offers enhanced resident services.
A contract award from Fannie Mae’s Sustainable Communities Initiative enabled HRDC to partner with the Urban Institute to assess the key successes and challenges of the project. The funding also allowed HRDC to implement a data-sharing agreement with Bozeman Health and the local detention center to identify people who frequently used their services and would benefit from stable housing.
On a brisk November day that was threatening snow, Harley Guyett and Aaron Lentz were finally coming in from the cold. The couple, who has lived in Bozeman for more than 12 years and has experienced extended periods of homelessness, signed a lease for their new home. That night, for the first time in a long time, they would tuck their son James into his crib and sleep in a heated home they could call their own.
In addition to providing affordable housing where tenants pay 30% of their income for rent, Housing First Village offers a range of optional support services, such as financial coaching, health care coordination, and mental health counseling. Applying the housing-first strategy, they work to provide stable housing and help residents as they transition into permanent housing and community living.
Prior to moving to Housing First Village, home for the couple had been a trailer a few miles outside of town. “Montana winters are unforgiving,” says Brian Guyer, HRDC’s Housing Director. “We really wanted to make sure that those three were in a warm, safe place.” Guyer, who has known Guyett and Lentz for years, is optimistic that their tiny home will help them overcome prior setbacks.
“Life hasn’t been a straight line for them, but what really stands out about these two is their resilience,” says Guyer. For Harley Guyett, having a home means she can focus on what’s next.
It’s hard to even get a job or find a place when you don’t have anywhere to shower. You’re busy just trying to survive.” Harley Guyett, Housing First Village resident
The homes are small but sturdy, built to withstand Montana winters. They have a heavy investment in soundproofing to foster a sense of safety and privacy, a priority for people coming from unstable environments or struggling with mental health issues. Trauma-informed design recognizes the benefits of natural light, calming colors, and privacy ― features not always typical in an affordable housing development ― and HRDC incorporated these features, and more, into each home.
As in many parts of the country, affordable housing is in short supply in Bozeman. During the pandemic, the population surged, as affluent, out-of-state residents now able to work anywhere flocked to the mountain town. The influx of new residents has upended the housing market, driving up home prices 29% in 12 months, and creating cascading impacts for local workers who have been priced out of rental homes.
HRDC runs a day center where people can shower, do laundry, and use a computer. From November to March, it also operates an emergency, overnight shelter, and demand for beds since the beginning of the pandemic has doubled. Right now, 85% of the shelter’s residents are working multiple jobs and still can’t afford housing.
Pre-pandemic, workforce housing meant affordable rentals in multifamily apartment buildings. “Now, workforce housing is the shelter,” according to Guyer.
We’re waking people up at 4:30 in the morning to get them off to their first shift. We’re keeping our doors open late because they’re coming home from the swing shift or the late shift. And it’s not just one job — it’s multiple jobs for a lot of our guests.” Brian Guyer, Housing Director, HRDC
As HRDC staff works to transition residents into Housing First Village, an immediate goal is to free up bed space in the shelter to make sure no one is turned away this winter.
In addition, Christopher Coburn, System Manager of Community Health Improvement & Partnership at Bozeman Health, is collecting data on the anticipated cost savings to the health system once this population is stably housed.
Something that we’ve known in public health for a very long time is that if we solve people’s housing issues, they can have time and capacity to address other issues that may be going on in their lives. And if we can address those needs, that frees up more of the support services to help other individuals.” Christopher Coburn, System Manager of Community Health Improvement & Partnership, Bozeman Health
Residents spoke of the sense of normalcy that having their own home will give them. “It’s going to provide stability,” says Bruce Darlan. “Make it to where I can actually get my thoughts in order. It will help with being able to find a job by staying clean, by getting rest, by taking medicine on time.”
Adam Maleski had been sleeping in his car in a Walmart parking lot before he moved to Housing First Village. As he unpacked, he choked up when asked what having his own home meant to him.
This is the most amazing experience. You don’t hear about opportunities like this.” Adam Maleski, Housing First Village resident
Fannie Mae is proud to support Housing First Village. It’s exciting to see HRDC apply a housing-first approach, providing stable housing and wraparound support services to residents who need them most. I believe other communities will be able to learn from this project.” Maria Evans, Vice President of Community Impact, Fannie Mae