Affordable housing is critical for better social outcomes

Jeff Hopfenbeck, Co-founder and CEO Simple Homes, Denver, Colorado

Feature | 22 November 2021
Growing up in the Denver suburbs, Jeff wanted to become an architect. However, the recession changed his plans and he ended up going to business school. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
For Hopfenbeck, the inflection point in making the switch from management consulting to founding his start-up came when he began hearing about the challenges of affordability housing in his community.

“I saw things happening in the market, and I kept on seeing more and more articles about the affordability challenges that were taking place here in Denver,” he remembers. “Also my wife is an educator and many of her friends were struggling to find reasonably priced housing and it was an even more impossible thought for them to buy a house.”

“All these things made me realize that if I didn’t take a shot at this, I would regret it. And if I took the shot and it didn’t work out, it would suck, but it would ultimately be well worth it. Thankfully all worked out,” he smiles letting out a sigh of relief.

In explaining what skills are integral for him to do his work, Jeff cites communication and problem solving as crucial. Skills he attributes to his liberal arts education and his work experience as a management consultant in particular.

“Communications and telling the story of what we are doing are huge!” he exclaims. “That’s how we started our company, brought on investors, employees and customers on board. Problem solving is also essential in our business as we are looking at complex problems and how to break them down into solvable parts.”

“My liberal arts education and time in management consulting, equipped me well with both of these skills for sure,” he underscores with much certitude.

When asked about the role technology plays in his work, Jeff quickly responds, “It is absolutely core to what we’re doing here. We are basically using technology to reduce the cost of labor to build homes and we’re also reducing the costs of construction materials.”

Jeff’s passion for affordable housing and his business skills allowed him to leverage technology and more efficient construction techniques to contribute to wider social well-being in his community. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
He emphasizes the importance of the work he is doing by stating that “it’s addressing the productivity and accessibility challenges in the construction industry,” something Jeff says needs to happen.

He describes technology as effectively being an enabler in providing housing which he says is a fundamental need. “If we can reduce the cost of housing by about 30%, that has a real impact on people who need housing,” he stresses with conviction.

“Housing is a key social determinant of health and is connected to so much more, such as education and other key social outcomes, that are important for communities and populations to thrive.”

Looking forward to the next few years, Jeff and his team at Simple Homes hope to be building upwards of 500 houses a year. “From a market perspective,” he says with optimism, “I think we have the capability and the demand to do it.” An affirmation of all the hard work he and his team are putting into this venture, and validation for the sleepless nights and the gamble and hard work it took to see his idea become reality.

“It’s not always exciting, it’s a little terrifying and there are definitely sleepless nights involved. But there is something exciting, and extremely gratifying in creating something that was just an idea,” says Jeff Hopfenbeck, cofounder and CEO of Simple Homes, based in Denver Colorado.

Jeff and his cofounder David Schultz started Simple Homes in Denver in 2019. Their dream was to produce affordable high-quality housing using Scandinavian off-site construction techniques. These homes – designed, manufactured, and assembled – are not just affordable, but are well-built and much faster than prevailing construction methods.

As a child growing up in a suburban Colorado neighborhood where houses were always being built around him, Jeff was fascinated with architecture and construction from a young age.

Jeff shows us the lay-out of his new factory where homes are produced in sections that are then shipped to sites and assembled in a faster timeframe than tradition techniques. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“Growing-up, I got the chance to build a house with my dad,” he fondly recalls. “I really wanted to be an architect. I had always been passionate about it, and I briefly went to architecture school during the recession. But I decided at that point it wasn’t a good time to be an architect,” he confesses.

“Interestingly enough, as passionate as I have always been about architecture, I never really found a fit in the industry. I interned for a few firms and just sort of didn’t culturally feel a fit. It’s a pretty old school industry by and large. And now here we are,” Jeff says grinning.

Prior to founding Simple Homes, Jeff who went to a liberal arts school as an undergraduate and later received his MBA, had worked in various industries.

“I worked in philanthropy for a while for a private foundation, and then for a community foundation doing a lot of rural economic development work. After that I went to business school with the intention of getting into the housing space, but then I ended up getting an offer from McKinsey & Company. I thought it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. So I spent a few years in management consulting doing a lot of work on the future of work robotics and automation.”

“That’s kind of how I ended up here seeing how we can use technology to address the labor challenges that are facing builders and developers, whether they’re trying to build something for profit or not for profit.”