Vail Resorts tells employees to brace for tighter living conditions
The Summit County housing crisis reached a fever pitch Tuesday evening as Vail Resorts officials told a tightly packed and, at points, rowdy room of between 125 and 150 employees that many of them will have to take on extra roommates and get used to bunk beds.
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Hosting two, hour-long, closed-door meetings at the Mountain House in Keystone — one in the morning and one in the evening to allow different shifts of employees to attend — Vail representatives delivered the bad news while a handful of security guards manned the perimeter of the room.
“This was a last resort,” explained Holly Underwood, human resources for Vail Resorts, Inc. “We don’t enjoy being here to address this. It’s not our holiday gift to ourselves.”
In an effort to address the workforce housing shortage, the Vail officials said two-bedroom apartments that currently house two occupants can now accommodate four, and three-bedroom units will quarter as many as five people. The initiative will affect at least several hundred units of employee housing in Breckenridge and Keystone, impacting thousands living in Summit County.
Calling the shift in housing policy “increasing density,” the message from Vail to residents of the Tenderfoot apartments was not well received. Almost all in attendance were outraged they would be forced to live with more people in already cramped quarters.
The throng of instructors, lift operators and other members of the resort workforce were up in arms, pointedly inquiring how their already limited space would be divvied up by even more bodies: That the tight confines of finite storage for outdoor gear could not possibly be parceled out any further; that refrigerators and cupboards in the kitchen could not possibly hold food for this expanded number of people; that parking, which is presently at capacity, could not be stretched any further.
After officials made the announcement, the meeting shifted to question-and-answer, so Vail could receive and capture feedback. Most in the audience seemed skeptical their voices were being heard, as this decision appeared to have already been made. Still, more hands shot up than people attending, with one dissatisfied employee comparing the forthcoming setup to a detention center.
“It’s like a prison,” he said.
“Yeah, prison you have to pay for,” replied another, because workforce housing provided by Vail is not free, but discounted. Vail representatives also floated the idea of lowering the rent in units that take on additional tenants, with that amount yet to be determined.
The date for these dramatic changes is also yet to be finalized, but it is estimated that bunk beds will be placed in units as soon as Dec. 23.
“You’re going to do this right before the holiday?” an employee responded. “Merry (expletive) Christmas.”
Another frustrated employee stood up and announced loudly, “I’m going to say something,” followed by spiritedly suggesting that a strike could really impact the Broomfield-based company’s operations at its four mountain resorts — Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Vail — particularly during the bustling holiday season.
He concluded that he would organize fellow employees to walkout with him the moment the additional beds arrived until the day they were removed. Coworkers reacted with applause and cheers. Vail representatives did not address the declaration and moved to the next question.
Still, one more unhappy worker asked what she and others who have a service animal are expected to do. Before breaking down in tears, she mentioned her current living space is already the smallest her fully-grown adult golden retriever has lived in.
During the open forum, one attendee suggested that if he could choose his own new roommates and there was a reduction in rent, he would deal with it as best he could. He was in the minority.
Furthermore, employees asked officials about lease contracts that were previously agreed to that specified they would have their own rooms. Greg Mock, of Pinnacle Property Management, which manages the Vail Resorts’ 1,100 workforce units in Colorado, stated these agreements entitled employees to a bed, not a room or entire unit. The contracts had already been run by Vail’s lawyers, as well as approved by the county over safety concerns pertaining to the fire code.
At least two members of the workforce filmed the proceedings with their cellphones, but were later told by Vail officials that if the videos were released — in particular to media — there would consequences. Both employees declined to let the Summit Daily News publish the footage for fear of retribution such as losing their jobs.
The resort company announced earlier this month a $30 million commitment to new affordable workforce housing near its properties in Colorado, California and Utah, but any finished residences could be years away. And on Tuesday, any mention of this development fell on deaf ears.
“We have been exploring options in this tight seasonal housing market,” said Mark Gasta, Vail Resorts chief people officer. “Vail Resorts works very hard to maximize all of our resources both internally and in the community to ensure we can provide thousands of beds across Eagle and Summit counties for our seasonal employees. The rental market vacancy in Summit and Eagle counties is essentially zero, and this is why earlier this month we announced a $30 million commitment to develop new employee housing projects with and across our mountain resort communities. Because potential projects could take a number of years to develop, among the options available to us is increasing the occupancy at some of our properties where both design of these units and building code requirements create fortunate situations to add beds. We recognize this isn’t the most ideal situation and we’ve reduced rent for each employee in those units. Looking forward, we will be engaging in greater community dialogue to assess our collective needs and determine more permanent options.”
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