In the coming decades, Downtown Denver’s Population Is Likely To Double. But that’s not the only place where growth takes place. The city also extends into the sunflower fields of the Eastern Plains, beyond Peña Boulevard, near Tower Road.
There, new homes fill the yawning gap between the rest of the city and the airport, in some of the last vast open spaces within Denver’s borders.
That kind of sprawl conjures up images of the ill-built chipboard McMansions of the 1990s on palatial lots. But that’s not quite right. The lots are smaller than then and fit in more homes in a compressed space.
The new burbs include a mix of condos and condos, large multi-storey houses for larger families, smaller terraced houses and detached houses on small lots.
Developer Pat Hamill’s Oakwood Homes has a new line, On2 Homes, an experiment to create affordable homes naturally.
The motto: “A new type of home. A new way of building.”
Here’s the company’s promise on its website:On2 Houses is here to break the status quo and build something stronger that suits us even better.”
On2 bundles two-storey factory-built single-family homes in an efficient process that Henry Ford would be proud of. At present, the first few homes in the line have been built at Green Valley Ranch.
These are not masterpieces of interesting architecture. But they are also a step up in design than trailers. And while these so-called “modular homes” have a cookie-cutter feel on the outside, the insides are wide open, wonderful places to live.
Rather than build what the company thinks people want and hope people come to, On2 has organized focus groups to learn what works with their first few builds — and what doesn’t.
No doubt the houses are quickly manufactured and treated as mass-produced – but it is the customization that makes these houses stand out.
The process of designing them is very sci-fi.
When people consider buying one, they put on virtual reality glasses to wander around a nonexistent house, choosing rooms and how they would be located. Buyers can sign a contract that same day. And in a few months their house will be up.
So far, only one of these homes has been occupied and the idea is still in its early stages.
But if the company manages to find a balance between affordability and quality and not mass production of acres of one-size-fits-all lemons, Oakwood Houses will capitalize on a market underserved by builders: people who work in Denver and don’t have easy jobs, but want their own home. Teachers, sanitation workers, bartenders, accountants, construction workers, store clerks and their families would benefit from having equity by also owning a house or apartment.
These On2 homes are intended for starters on the housing market. They sell for half the median home price, which was $620,000 in the Denver metro in August. If the company’s predictions are correct, people who own these factory-built homes will gain equity just like any other homeowner.
That is important for ON2’s financial director Jordyn Croom.
Croom’s father’s family lived in Globeville for decades. Their mother lived in Montbello. Today, many of their relatives cannot afford Denver.
Relocation is a sad truth for Croom, who spent part of their teenage years effectively homeless and worked their way up into adulthood in a housing industry that is all too often focused on building houses, condos and condos for wealthy people.
“I saw how hugely important home ownership is,” Croom said. “It has affected my friendships. It affected my physical health, my mental health. This is a very important thing. And now we see rents. They are going through the roof.”
While Croom has made his way in the industry for the past ten years, working in nearly every position at Oakwood, they’ve seen their Denver family priced out as rent and home prices skyrocket. Some aunts and uncles were pushed all the way to the last affordable place they could find: rural Missouri.
When Croom was studying homebuilding at the University of Denver, they imagined spending their adult years with greedy developers. But soon they decided to work on innovative construction projects that lowered the costs for everyday residents. They said it would be more rewarding and effective to tackle the plight of people who want to live here but cannot afford it.
The idea of building houses in factories scares many people, Croom acknowledged. And the company is working to shift the public perception of what so-called “modular housing” is.
Many people think that factory-made houses are cheap, unstable and not comparable to handmade houses, Croom said. But a walk through an On2 Homes property tells a different story.
While the exteriors of all those homes have a monotonous aesthetic, inside these places are spacious, filled with natural light and comfortable amenities.
And factory building can even lead to sturdier homes, Croom said.
“What’s kind of funny about that is that technically, academically, it would be a superior build,” they said. “You build it in a factory where it is always 72 degrees and sunny. You are not exposed to the elements during a construction period of nine months. It’s all precision cut. It uses the latest and greatest manufacturing technology to help build this home. In theory it is actually tighter, better, stronger built.”
The On2 team prides itself on the diversity of its workforce, which indicates who the company builds for: people who don’t fit into the nuclear family.
“I think that’s unique in this industry,” Croom said. “On2 is actually a female lead. And I am a non-binary individual. I have a non-traditional family. We’ve all thought about it, which I think is a bit rare in today’s housing construction.
While there is a stigma that needs to be addressed, Croom believed they will gain more power over time, just like any other home in the area.
Ultimately, On2’s modular homes could serve as a national model of how the market can enable different categories of buyers to own and invest in homes, even in a housing crisis.
But the real test of the value of these properties, their durability and equality will take decades to determine.
On2 has 96 home locations in Green Valley Ranch and is in talks with state and local politicians and other municipalities about expanding the model statewide.
Ultimately, the company hopes to reduce the time it takes to build a house.
“We don’t want to deliver anything less than what we consider our highest quality,” Croom said. “So in this learning process it takes a little longer. But we have the potential, once we’re really up and running, to be able to get someone under contract and have a brand new home 60 days later.”