Columbia Falls brewery looks to add housing for employees

Mar 02, 2022

NBC Montana

KALISPELL, MONT. — The phrase ‘affordable workforce housing’ is not uncommon to hear in the Flathead.

According to a study done in 2016 by the Montana Budget and Policy Center, over 85% of the Flathead are renter households living below poverty level and paying more than 30% of income on rent and utilities.

Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls is looking to address the housing issue in order to help their employees.

“I’ve never experienced this level of inadequate staffing. I don't know how this problem will be solved, I mean, it's going to take some creative thinking. This struggle has been an issue for the valley," said Tonja Erickson, one of the lead chef's at Backslope Brewing.

Backslope Brewing initially bought the building next to them to add more kitchen and brewing space, but are also looking to convert part the building to employee housing.

“Service workers I think, are absolutely essential to the all of the amenities that many of us want and want to enjoy," said Backslope Brewing co-owner Carla Fisher.

Fisher has already received approval from the city's planning board.

She is currently waiting on approval from the Columbia Falls City Council to move forward with the employee housing.

Fisher never intended to be an landlord, especially for her employees.

“I don't want to be a landlord for my employees, but we do need it to be that way for right now," says Fisher.

If everything goes according to plan Fisher hopes to have the building renovations done by May.

Renovations would include two separate living areas with bunkbeds and a common area, according to Fisher.

According to Fisher, the monthly rent will only consist of the day-to-day costs of living and utilities.

Montana Budget & Policy Center

Shaping policy for a stronger Montana.

MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.