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Pueblo's indieDwell rolling out first Colorado homes for its hometown and La Junta

Tracy Harmon
The Pueblo Chieftain
Gwennie Halbrook caulks a window of  one of the modular homes being built at indieDwell on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Pueblo, Colo.

A new business that makes tiny homes in Pueblo has big goals to create social impact housing for those in need.

“We do things like permanent supportive housing,” which is not the typical single-person or a couple’s affordable tiny home, “but it definitely is going to have a social impact,” said Ron Francis, indieDwell general manager for the Pueblo production facility. “We are just trying to make a difference in our small way.”

A sobriety center in La Junta and the Neighborworks of Southern Colorado in Pueblo soon will be the beneficiaries of indieDwell’s first Colorado-based homes. Most of the homes constructed here so far gone to California.

The company uses shipping containers to make the tiny homes with the idea of recycling some of the 11-million shipping containers in the country. A Model 9 features three shipping containers attached together.

More:indieDwell hits the ground running in Pueblo

“What they are doing in La Junta is a Model 9 duplex so it’s six containers in total, 1,920 square feet and I believe it is going to be eight bedrooms and each one has its own bathroom and its own kitchen,” Francis said. “So it will be able to accommodate eight people.”

Andres Brown uses a grinder on a steel frame at indieDwell on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Pueblo, Colo.

The Neighborworks nonprofit has programs to help families attain affordable housing and will receive an indieDwell three-bedroom, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant version of the Model 9 on East Second Street.

“It will be really great for Pueblo that they get to see what we do," Francis said. "I think people have a preconceived idea of what a container home looks like and when they see ours they say it looks nothing like a container."

Francis said that the homes are only similar to the containers by their size constraint of 8-by-40 feet or 16-by-40 feet. The homes feature concrete siding, energy efficient windows and “by the time they are done there is no resemblance to a shipping container,” he said.

Recently the company has branched out from the shipping container size tiny home.

“We are moving away from the shipping container and we are going toward a metal-framed building. Shipping containers are expensive, they are very difficult to work in and more importantly, most people now are requesting that we use a one-tripper which basically means they are a brand new shipping container.

"Right now, in the modules we make the bedroom has to be 8-foot wide because that’s the size of the (shipping container) unit. So we are going to be offering three different widths: 12; 14 and 16 feet; and that’s pretty much come down to what we can get out of the (manufacturing) building,” he explained.

The two halves of the containers will eventually be connected to form the full modular housing unit being built at indieDwell.

One project the company is bidding on right now is 16-by-65 feet and is one big unit.

“I know our design group is super excited to be able to look at things wider than 8 feet,” Francis said.

If indieDwell gets that project it will be workforce housing in Denver where rent and mortgages are “just going through the roof” and are too exorbitant for some workers to afford, he said.

Despite that, even if the bedroom inside a container looks super small, “you have to think about who is going in them. This may be the first thing they’ve actually owned when it comes to property.

"Or like with the sobriety center they are not going to worry its an 8-foot room. It is still a beautiful bedroom, it’s just small,” he explained.

Francis said the Pueblo production plant got its start July 6. The tiny homes are being built inside a 100,000 square-foot facility at 205 N. Elizabeth St., formerly the AG Warehouse.

“Being an essential business we were working,” despite the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. “Come September we had a lot of issues — not with people testing positive, but people coming in contact with people who had tested positive.

“At the time it was five or six days to turn around a test so we were seeing October, November, early December somewhere around 20% of our workforce would be out. It was tough for sure,” Francis said.

“It is challenging because you still want to try to meet production goals,” he explained.

The company currently has 60 employees, having added six new workers this week.

“We are still looking to add another 10 (workers). We haven’t had a COVID-related absence this year so that’s obviously great news,” he said.

The bad news was a major design issue for one project that resulted in the temporary furlough of 35 workers, “because we literally couldn’t work on the project until we got that resolved, so we have had our fair share of startup issues,” Francis said.

More:Vestas layoff cuts 120 jobs at Pueblo plant

The company strives to follow the United Nation’s sustainability development goals and is committed to try to meet 11 of the 17 goals.

For example, building housing that is affordable and uses clean energy; and practicing gender equality through hiring practices and pay schedule are just some of the goals.

“We definitely see an incredible path forward and I think we’ve already got nearly $30 million worth of work in the books. When we look at our sales pipeline for our two factories (the other is in Idaho) it’s nearly a billion dollars.

It is insane how much need there is for what we do,” Francis said.” Our demand increases on a weekly basis.”

Francis said when idieDwell inked an incentive agreement with the City of Pueblo through Pueblo’s Economic Development Corp., the company committed to 170 jobs in Pueblo.

To find out more, go to indieDwell.com.

Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon covers business and Fremont County news. She can be reached by email at tharmon@chieftain.com or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.