‘Workforce Housing’ Moves Forward in Columbia Falls

The Highline Apartments filled up immediately this fall and already have a waiting list for the next phase

By Maggie Dresser
Carl Goeden, left, and Taylor Pitts sculpt a new curb at The Highline Apartments, under construction on Bills Lane near downtown Columbia Falls on June 21, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As the Flathead Valley grows and its workforce expands, the housing inventory can feel like it’s shrinking.

Cities have been working to provide affordable housing, and Columbia Falls unveiled one of its efforts with 72 pet-friendly units at the Highline Apartments in September.

But developer Brent Brown of the Missouri based Greenway Development Group doesn’t refer to the apartment buildings as affordable housing; he calls it “workforce housing,” according to Columbia Falls City Manager Susan Nicosia.

“Their main philosophy is if you work full-time at Super 1, you should be able to live in your community,” Nicosia said.

Brown set rental rates based on the current market, and the city had no requirements for price points. The apartments are unaffiliated with Section 8, a federal rent subsidy program for low-income families and individuals, according to Nicosia.

Housing demand is higher than supply, a gap that Nicosia says the Highline Apartments have addressed in Columbia Falls.

“One of the big things that drives market prices is the lack of available apartments,” Nicosia said. “So you could have an older, less maintained (apartment) and all of a sudden rent is $1,000 a month because there’s 40 people standing in line.”

Since the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Highline Apartments’ first phase in September, the 72 units have all been filled and there’s already a waiting list for the next two complexes, which are scheduled for completion next summer. Once the entire development is finished, there will be six complexes total with 216 units.

The apartments consist of 400-square-foot studios for $695 per month, 535-square-foot one-bedroom units for $875 and 938-square-foot two-bedroom units for $995. The complexes also have a dog park and in the future will have a playground and patio with a barbecue area.

Greenway developers recognized the housing demand when they first began brainstorming their development in the valley, and decided the 14 acres on Bills Lane where the Highline Apartments now sit was the perfect location.

The space had been vacant since the early 2000s when former developers failed to produce a planned apartment complex. Nicosia says after the recession hit, developments ceased.

“It’s a gorgeous piece of property and a gorgeous space,” Nicosia said.

Greenway developers have already pulled building permits for the next complexes and hope to construct three buildings during phase two to meet the demand, which they will discuss with Columbia Falls City Council on Oct. 15. Developers will also discuss adding more studios and two-bedroom apartments and have fewer one-bedrooms.

“They were pleasantly surprised the first two buildings were at full occupancy immediately,” Nicosia said.

“We’re really please with the outcome and I think that having it be full immediately and having them want to move forward with not just two buildings but three definitely speaks to the need,” Nicosia said.

While there aren’t more definite housing projects in the works in Columbia Falls, there is a development company out of Billings interested in a tax-credit program for an affordable-housing development, although no applications have been filed, according to Nicosia.


Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.