Opinion | Bruce Butler: Thinking inside the box to address workforce housing
Common Sense Conversations
One of the things I enjoyed most during my time as mayor of Silverthorne was welcoming new businesses to town — especially the brewpubs! I enjoyed welcoming new businesses because I respect people with an entrepreneurial spirit, I liked seeing new business activity come to town, and I loved seeing unique ideas and concepts come to fruition. I have often said that I do not begrudge anybody success because most people who have had success have worked very hard for it.
Along these lines, one new business that has just opened in Silverthorne is The Pad, near the Silverthorne Recreation Center on the former Robinson Dairy site. The Pad is a unique lodging idea modeled on a high-end hostel concept that was constructed, in part, using repurposed shipping containers. The Pad offers guests a spectrum of lodging options, providing an opportunity to stay economically in Summit County by sharing a hostel-style room with multiple private bed spaces or a more expensive private room. Guests can access common laundry and kitchen spaces to facilitate their stay, and there is a great lounge, bar and social space that will be just as popular with locals as it will be with guests. The owners and operators are a local Summit County couple, and I congratulate them for opening a great new amenity in Silverthorne and for creative thinking inside the box.
For the record, I have no personal or financial connection to The Pad. My main reason for highlighting The Pad and its business concept in this column is that I think it is also a great model to help Summit County address some of its workforce/employee housing problems. Let’s be honest: A vital segment of our local workforce will enjoy Summit County living for six months up to five years and move on. This does not mean we should ignore opportunities for people to grow roots and raise families in our community, but solving problems also requires awareness of the gaps in local housing types, who we are trying to help and the somewhat transient nature of our community.
People have different personal space needs that inevitably evolve as they age. When I was younger, I had roommates from my freshman year at college until I got married. That is how I made ends meet in an expensive cost-of-living city. I would gladly have traded excess apartment space for more spending money, new skis and travel flexibility. As I get older, I favor more personal space and have little interest in accommodating noisy roommates or overnighting in a sleeping bag in a tiny tent on the hard ground.
There is a market and a need in Summit County for a modern dormitory-style workforce housing product. Think of a model where residents rent a cruise-ship-style cabin that has a private bathroom, a small closet and bed space. This provides necessary personal space and an opportunity to build community through shared laundry, limited kitchen and social spaces. Having seen a fair amount of university housing lately, there are also opportunities for food concessions, the ability to rent additional storage and other offerings. Even better, this model could be embraced by the private market, so not all affordable/workforce housing has to be underwritten by taxpayers.
One of the biggest problems we have with workforce housing is it’s not affordable for many workers, even with increasing wages. Is this residential model for everybody? Of course not, but offering a spectrum of viable, quality, lower-cost housing options makes a lot of sense. This cabin compartment concept offers younger workers the opportunity to rent a living space for a reasonable amount of money and to enjoy Summit County’s lifestyle because their paycheck goes further.
The town of Silverthorne has planned mixed-use rental housing on the lower portion of Smith Ranch for years. What better place to implement this workforce housing model? The consistent residential population would help anchor the commercial development, and the workforce availability would support local businesses. I can think of other locations around the county that would be good places to implement this workforce housing model, too. Sometimes solving problems requires creative in the box thinking.
Bruce Butler’s column “Common Sense Conversations” publishes biweekly on Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Butler is a former mayor and council member in Silverthorne, where he has lived for 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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