Mountain Parks land sale could fund employee housing

Mountain Parks Electric owns an undeveloped 2.7 acre parcel of land in Winter Park that it's selling to fund employee housing solutions.

Over three decades ago, Mountain Parks Electric bought 2.7 acres in Winter Park for around $61,000 with plans for a substation. Since then, plans have changed. The property is now on the market for $1.25 million with the hopes that the sale will fund employee housing solutions.

Mountain Parks Electric’s board of directors is scheduled to vote on a resolution approving the sale on Aug. 12. The property is on Vasquez Street in Winter Park and surrounded by national forest, making it a prime listing.

“Over the years, it became clear that we wouldn’t need a substation there,” General Manager Mark Johnston said. “What we’ve decided is to list the property for sale because of the value of the property today.”

Proceeds from the sale will become an endowment fund for employee housing, whether that be rental and mortgage assistance for individual staff or purchasing units to rent to employees. Mountain Parks already owns one home that it rents to staff and Johnston said they are working with a real estate agent to keep an eye out for other listings that meet their needs.

Johnston added that current building prices are keeping the company from being able to afford building new units for housing employees.

The idea for the endowment fund came out of a committee of non-management staff and board members focused on housing solutions. Mountain Parks Human Resources Manager Jessica Rahn said an employee survey also showed housing was more of an issue than wages or benefits.

“We’re struggling to recruit and retain people, and at the end of the day, it comes down to the cost of housing for pretty much everyone,” Rahn said.

Johnston noted the East Troublesome Fire not only exacerbated housing costs and lack of inventory across the county, but also burned some workers’ homes.

Rahn said the fire, employee losses and recruitment issues pushed Mountain Parks to take more immediate action.

“We fear that if we don’t provide solutions within the next six months, that we’ll lose additional employees,” she said.

The endowment fund also provides solutions to housing concerns without Mountain Parks having to raise rates. As an essential service but also a member-owned cooperative, Johnston said it’s important to the company to find ways to support both itself and the community.

The company has found mutual benefits to partnering with Grand County and the towns to help affordable housing projects wherever they can.

“The businesses in Grand County are our customers and if they start to go away, then we start to go away as well,” Johnston said. “We think the solution, not just for us, but for other employers, is to put people in permanent housing.”

Ultimately, Johnston’s goal for the endowment fund is to remove housing as a reason why employees leave or can’t take a job.

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