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As Employees Struggle To Find Affordable Housing, One Business Builds Its Own

Feb 11, 2020

The snowy area in the foreground will soon be home to affordable housing units adjacent to Iron Mountain Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs.
Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

In the Roaring Fork Valley, it can be tough for people to find a place to live. Finding a place that is affordable and close to their workplace is harder still. That housing crunch means that businesses can have trouble retaining workers.

“Although they love their job and they love the Valley and they love Glenwood,” said Steve Beckley, owner of Iron Mountain Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, “if you have a family or a startup family or you're going to have kids, you need to find reasonable housing. And it's just very difficult to find that in our valley.”

Now, Beckley is taking matters into his own hands and building employee housing himself. 

Frustrated with the prospect of losing more managers and presented with a unique set of circumstances, Beckley is building 19 condominiums right in the parking lot of Iron Mountain Hot Springs. They’re deed-restricted, two-bed, two-bath units open to anyone to anyone who works in Glenwood, although Beckley will try to fill them with his own employees first.

 

 

Sketches of the condominium units show residences on the second floor and offices on the first.
Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

“I think Steve is brilliant and innovative and is an example to other employers as to addressing the situation of housing their own workforce,” said Kate Gazunis, executive director of the Garfield County housing authority.

The hot springs and adventure park are two of the biggest tourist attractions in Glenwood Springs. During the peak of the summer, Beckley employs more than 300 people. It’s not easy to find a place to put them all, especially managers who he wants to stick around for a while.

 

Steve Beckley, owner of Iron Mountain Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, points out where the new condominiums will be built.
Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

But building your own condo complex comes with a hefty price tag. Beckley was only able to make it work because of a unique situation. Adjacent to the hot springs are offices for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

So he worked out a deal where CDOT gets new offices on the first floor of the housing complex, and he takes over their old office building and parking spaces. Plus, it helps that Beckley already owned a big enough plot of land that was zoned for the new construction.

Without all of that falling into place, he says, it would have been a lot harder.

“I will tell you, the way construction costs are right now, that it would be very difficult to just go buy some land, build some employee housing and make it work economically,” Beckley said.

 

The snow-covered area, currently storing a few parked trucks, will soon be converted into employee housing.
Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Gazunis says there are other ways employers can help out with housing, like subsidizing rent or co-signing a lease. But however they do it, the bottom line is that it’s worth it.

“Turnover is much more expensive than helping house your employees,” Gazunis said.

And Beckley knows that. He says he’s lost a lot of workers over the last few years, and some of the ones who’ve stuck around have to live in motorhomes, with no permanent place to park them.

“If I can offer you subsidized housing and it takes that worry off of you and you are happy,” Beckley said, “then you'll stay with me for a long time.”

That’s something that resonates with Michael McCrary, who works as a manager at the adventure park. After about a year of living with his parents in Silt, he finally managed to land a spot with a friend in New Castle, about 20 minutes down the road from work. But he says he’s lucky to have that, and doesn’t have a lot of other options.

“I know that if anything ever falls through that, [the new housing] would be my go-to,” McCrary said. “You know, I don't necessarily want to try and live with my parents anymore.”

McCrary says employees first heard about the opportunity a few months ago. 

“And ever since then it's definitely been some whispers out there,” McCrary said. “I feel like people are stoked, definitely in my department, definitely in the company.”