Employers concerned with lack of affordable housing
August 11, 2017
Imagine you're an employer in Grand County. You've spent weeks, maybe months, interviewing and selecting the perfect employee who fits your business. The paperwork is all drawn out, and they can't wait to come work for you. Now imagine receiving a call from the prospective individual, explaining that they can't take the job because they can't find a place to live, or can't afford it.
The expensive and time consuming process of finding a qualified applicant starts over.
Unfortunately that is the reality for many of Grand County businesses. The lack of affordable housing options in the community has left a myriad of businesses short-staffed, and unable to properly recruit new, qualified employees. In turn, business owners have to stretch themselves thin, working considerably more hours than normal.
"If you drive around Granby or the Grand County area, you see everybody has a help wanted sign out," said Jessica Blair, executive director of the Granby Chamber of Commerce. "Everyone is desperate to get good help, so what's the problem? Then you look at what's available for people to rent or purchase at a reasonable price and there's just not a lot available for them."
An economic boom makes finding housing a bust
The lack of affordable housing is very closely linked to the boom in economic development in the county over the last couple of years, according to Catherine Ross, executive director of the Winter Park/Fraser Chamber of Commerce.
As the economy grows, businesses thrive and need more employees to meet demand from customers, effectively filling all available housing options. A weaker economy means employers can't afford to hire employees and housing becomes cheaper and more available. In this way, Ross believes the issue is somewhat cyclical.
"It ebbs and flows in our county," Ross said. "When things are going well people need to build to staff up. And it's hard for employers because first thing is they need a place to stay."
The issue is affecting some of Grand County's biggest and smallest businesses.
Jason Bryan, chief of human resources at Middle Park Medical Center, said they deal with the issue often, and it is exacerbated by their need for specialists.
"We had a recent situation where we spent a lot of time and energy recruiting someone," said Bryan. "It's costly to recruit a specialist, and they were not able to find housing and ultimately declined the offer."
So they had to start over with the recruiting process.
Melissa Robles, who owns the Ala Mode Salon in Granby, said she constantly has to turn away business because she can't find enough employees to meet demand.
"It affects us daily," she said. "I'm turning away five to 10 haircuts today. I'm turning away several manicures and pedicures. I just don't have the staff to accommodate them."
The lack of housing has begun putting pressure on employers to be more proactive in seeking out housing connections for potential employees. This can be especially difficult for smaller businesses not able to subsidize housing.
Another effect of the lack of attainable housing is the transient workforce in most of the county. An individual may have a housing agreement with Winter Park Resort during the ski season, but will then be forced to leave the county once the seasonal job ends.
"If we had some sort of affordable housing they could live here year round," said Blair. "We would retain a lot more people that fall into that category. We could staff some of these jobs that everybody is posting. We have the people, but they leave because there's nowhere for them to stay."
Homes for the aging
An underlying issue with housing concerns is the age of residents in Grand County, and the different needs each age group requires in housing. Ross said the population of Grand County is aging faster than the average county in Colorado, which relates to two major effects of the lack of affordable housing.
The first is that while young people continue to be priced out of housing in Grand County, the county risks losing some of the vibrancy young professionals bring to the community. As younger residents are looking to put down roots, the prohibitive nature of housing prices in the county are forcing them to look elsewhere, and the county's population will continue to get older.
"The idea is to create more vibrancy in the town," said Ross. "We want to open it up to young professionals and allow them to be able to live here and walk to work. That would be great for the overall sense of community in our town, as well as allow people to open businesses near where they live."
Another concern with aging is very limited space for assisted living units in the county. There is currently only an assisted living facility in Kremmling, along with an independent elder living facility. With the county's advanced aging, older residents looking to stay in the county will have difficulties finding housing options to do so.
"People want to age in place," said Ross. "We don't want them to have to leave the county, and not be able to see their kids or grand kids."
An initial solution?
Both Ross and Blair agreed that the solution to the lack of affordable housing has to be a collaborative effort on behalf of the respective governments of the county, and private enterprises looking to make a difference. These types of projects have already begun in earnest in the Winter Park-Fraser area.
The town of Winter Park is currently partnering with private companies and nonprofits on a few housing projects, including the new Sitzmark apartment complex, and a new housing assistance fund just announced in cooperation with the Grand Foundation and Winter Park Resort.
"I think it needs to be a collaborative effort, especially when you're dealing with such a large-scale issue," said Blair. "It needs to be both entities coming to the table and working on creative solutions. Everyone needs to pull their own weight in that aspect."