Some small businesses offer units to attract talent amid Summit housing shortage |

Some small businesses offer units to attract talent amid Summit housing shortage

JT Greene poses on the second floor of his shop, Wilderness Sports, in Dillon on Wednesday, May 19. Greene is a local business owner who will soon offer employee housing to his staff.
Photo by Grace Coomaraswamy

As residents of Summit County continue to fight to find housing, some local businesses are getting creative and offering units to their staff as a way to attract and retain talent.

Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue has dubbed the current situation a housing crisis and has encouraged county staff to develop a housing stimulus package. As county staff work to come up with short- and long-term solutions, some small business owners are taking matters into their own hands.

For example, James Daniel Raitt was approved last week for a conditional-use permit to construct what he’s calling Applewood Business Condominiums.

According to the resolution, the two-story commercial building has office and warehouse space on the ground floor and storage space on the top floor. Raitt’s plan is to convert the second story into small studio apartments “to meet the housing demand for employees of businesses on the ground floor.” Because of the conditions of the permit, the units are not eligible for short-term renting and the residences must be used exclusively as rental housing for people employed in and owning the economic enterprise on the ground floor.

Raitt, who did not respond to a request for comment, is not the only businessperson trying to get ahead of housing demand.

Joyce De La Torre owns two Bread + Salt locations, one in Frisco and one in Buena Vista. When she and her husband moved out of their apartment five years ago, they decided to make it available to rent to one of their employees.

When opening the Buena Vista location in January, De La Torre said it made sense to obtain additional employee housing, too. Upstairs from the restaurant are three units, and another unit is attached to the back of the building. De La Torre said they own a nearby motel that also has a few units, which she and her husband plan to renovate. In total, they have 12 employee housing units in Buena Vista, which they rent for $650 per month.

De La Torre said she’d like to offer more housing to her other employees in Frisco but cost is too big a barrier right now.

JT Greene stands in his shop, Wilderness Sports, in Dillon on Wednesday, May 19. Greene is a local business owner who will soon offer employee housing to his staff.
Photo by Grace Coomaraswamy

JT Greene, co-owner of Wilderness Sports, is also using employee housing as a way to attract future talent.

Wilderness Sports in Dillon has been in operation since 1976. The building is two stories that Greene and his team rent from two separate entities. The upper floor is 3,000 square feet and was used for consignment sales while the bottom floor is used for new sales.

When the opportunity to buy the upper floor arose, and when consignment sales weren’t bringing in enough revenue, Greene and the three other owners began to brainstorm ways to add an additional revenue stream to the business.

The result? An upper floor that will house three one-bedroom units, two of which will be used for employee housing and one that will be used as a short-term rental.

While the project is still in its early stages — the team is still in the process of earning permits and plans to begin construction in July — Greene said he hopes the units help attract talent and bring more business to Wilderness Sports.

“More so, what we’ve seen as the biggest issue is trying to get new employees,” Green said. “Especially for us, the one thing we need right now is another high-quality mechanic, and it’s pretty difficult … to get someone from outside the county to consider moving here, especially considering how little housing there is.”

Because the cost to renovate the floor into new units is expensive, Greene said the team decided to turn the third unit into a short-term rental to help offset the cost of the other two long-term housing units. And because the vacation unit would be tied directly to the store, Greene said he envisions renters coming to the store to rent gear during their stay.

“It’s pretty critical to pay for the space, to pay for the mortgage, to pay for all of that stuff,” Greene said about the short-term rental unit. “It’d be pretty hard to do on just long-term rentals alone.”

Greene has owned Wilderness Sports for a little over three years, and during that time, he’s helped staff find housing. At one point, he even housed an employee in his own home for six months as they tried to find something more permanent. Greene said he and his wife recently bought a house in Leadville because prices were too expensive locally.

“We had an employee who had been renting for a while, and their house got sold out from under them. And unfortunately we haven’t finished these apartments yet, so that wasn’t super helpful, but as a staff and as a community, we were able to help them find some new housing that was in a good spot,” Greene said.

Greene said he hopes to have construction wrapped up by November. Once completed, Greene said he’d open up the employee housing units to other local businesses in the Dillon area if his own employees didn’t need the units.

In addition to small businesses, many of Summit County’s larger employers provide housing, including Vail Resorts, Copper Mountain Resort and Beaver Run Resort, among others.

“As a recruiting and retention tool in the current economy, we know how valuable our employee housing is as an asset,” Beaver Run Human Resources Director Laura Lower said. “We have one- and two-bedroom apartment-style units for a total of 73 beds. We are fortunate to be able to house up to 25% of our workforce.”

Centura Health also is planning to build housing for its employees at the site of the Summit Vista Professional Building in Frisco.

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