MOAB — When Nancy Morlock and boyfriend Eric Boxrud were ready to give up the communal living that tends go hand in hand with being a mountain bike guide in Moab, their search for a place of their own yielded results that were less than appealing. “Houses were priced out of our income level,” said Morlock, a guide for Moab Cyclery and Escape Adventures.
“What Eric and I found was this little piece of property, and it had a single-wide trailer on it,” she said. “We were going to settle for living in that. “We could have done it, but it would have been way more of a struggle,” Morlock added. “We would have been in over our heads.” Enter Community Rebuilds — a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve workforce housing in Moab through the construction of affordable energy-efficient homes. The group hauled off Morlock and Boxrud’s pink, single-wide trailer and replaced it with a light green home that includes more than a few unique features.
“We build passive solar straw bale homes for qualifying families who receive a low-interest loan through USDA Rural Development,” said Community Rebuilds founder and executive director Emily Niehaus. Niehaus, who has a master’s degree in social work and experience as a loan officer, said she first got the idea for Community Rebuilds in 2003. That was two years before the Southeastern Utah Association of Governments conducted a housing study that showed just how dire the affordable housing situation was in Moab. “(The study) showed that 35 percent of the housing stock in Moab was considered dilapidated or unacceptable,” Niehaus said. “The majority of the homes are pre-1976 manufactured homes.” Many of those manufactured homes had been brought to town during the uranium boom, which began in the 1950s. Their age and condition often made them the only affordable option for the folks who “run the machine” that keeps Moab’s tourism industry alive.
“Bike guides, bike mechanics, river guides, full-time but seasonal Park Service employees, those are the people that are applying for (Community Rebuilds) homes and qualifying,” Niehaus said.
The floor plan for those homes is relatively simple: three bedrooms, two bathrooms and less than 1,000 square feet. And the people who build them are all interns who receive a food stipend and a place to stay during the four months it takes for construction. “We’re recruiting students from all over the world that have a simple desire to learn how to build a straw bale home from foundation to finish,” Niehaus said.