'They make me who I am': Ennis grocer secures affordable housing for employees

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Posted at 8:27 AM, Oct 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-06 10:28:48-04

It’s no secret that housing prices in the state of Montana are on the rise, as the Last Best Place seems to be on the minds of house hunters.

Ennis is seeing an increase in renting rates and home prices, according to Chris Gentry, the owner of Madison Foods. Gentry says there are high levels of foot traffic, but it's difficult to recruit employees.

“I lost two qualified people from out of the area to bring in here because there’s no housing,” she said. “I would say the average rent is around $1500 a month.”

That position was for produce manager, which caught the eye of an Atlanta native. Martevius Hill applied for the position and prepared for his move to the state of Montana.

“I actually thought it would be a lot cheaper here than where I came from,” Hill said.

Jeremy Ramirez moved from Los Angeles, California and is the Meat Department Manager at Madison Foods. He says Gentry gave her potential and new employees a word of warning regarding the cost of living in Ennis.

Understanding that she needs workers, and her workers need a place to live, Gentry decided to start thinking of solutions.

“This summer I tried to find housing for my employees, and I was beat out on two houses that I bid on. I’m in the grocery business, not the rental business,” Gentry said.

Despite that, Gentry was able to secure 11 units, giving priority to her employees. Both Hill and Ramirez are tenants of hers and are thankful for the housing so close to work and leased to them at an affordable rate.

“Just being a human. That’s great, because usually you don’t have people to rent out spaces, and if you do they are charging an arm and a leg,” Hill said.

Gentry is hoping to keep these units in an effort to secure affordable places to live for her employees. Rent depends on the size of the unit, but Gentry charges around $850 a month.

“They mean a lot to me, they make me who I am,” Gentry said. “I hope I can return that favor to them because it just makes us better in the long run.”