COLUMBIA FALLS — Researchers call it "Montana's Unaffordable Housing Crisis" and the proof is in the numbers.
The Bureau of Business and Economic Research found affordable housing is an increasingly difficult problem for many Treasure State communities.
For example, there are only 39 affordable housing units for every 100 households earning an extremely low income.
That's not to mention the burden renters face in the Big Sky State.
In Missoula County, 40% of households are cost-burdened.
The Bitterroot is at about 36%
As for the Flathead? Around 37%
It's because of these statistics that one Flathead business is taking an innovative approach to ensuring their employees have a place to call home.
Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls is in the process of creating housing for their employees in preparation for their busy season.
The owners of Backslope purchased the property next door with plans to add additional kitchen space for the brewery, as well as room for up to four employees to live.
“We have seen employees struggle to find housing if they lose where they are, currently. It takes time for them to find something else. We've lost a few employees who we hired and then they lost housing and they couldn't continue to work here. So, it's been one of the concerns that we've had about how do we help employees how do we retain employees," said Carla Fisher, owner of Backslope Brewing.
Fisher is concerned that housing issues are creating stress and anxiety among employees, causing them to lose focus at work.
“We want to provide that safe secure space for people here. So whatever small things we can do to do that were trying to do so," said Fisher.
A request for Plan Unit Development was approved unanimously by the planning board on February 15th. That plan will go to the Columbia Falls City Council next month for review, with hopes of having the project completed in May.
“We do need more staff in the summer than we do in the winter. So being able to have housing that we know we'd have for those seasonal employees that are struggling finding housing elsewhere," said Fisher.
Employee housing is not unheard of, but it is an unusual necessity for a small business in town.
“I think it's wonderful that small businesses are reaching out and trying to help provide housing that's needed, and I also wish that they weren't forced to do so," said CJ Mueller, lead brewer at Backslope Brewing.
Mueller has worked at Backslope for three years.
“It is the single best working experience I've had in my life. From the top-down, management is the most supportive and the most communicative I’ve ever worked with," said Mueller.
So far, there hasn’t been any public opposition to the plan and all the surrounding businesses have been informed of the proposed use.
“This community is an amazing community, and we are so happy to be here. We are wanting to provide that space for employees to feel like we're looking out for them in their best interests because we care about them,” said Fisher.