Workforce Housing Forum Defined Problem, Offered Solutions

On May 15th the Estes Park EDC hosted a Workforce Housing Forum, sponsored by the Estes Valley Partners for Commerce at the Estes Park Town Board Room.

Rita Kurelja, Director of the Estes Park Housing Authority gave a succinct presentation on previous and current workforce housing issues and statistics. “Without housing, potential employees are not going to choose Estes Park,” stated Kurelja.

Randy Brigham, Chief Human Resources Officer with the Estes Park Medical Center said that EPMC has approximately 340 current employees and 31 job openings. He went on to say that 29% of the employees commute into Estes Park. “One of the things to think about is the amount of money that leaves the community with commuter employees. In our case, it’s just over six million dollars.”

Scott Pope, Vice President and CFO of the YMCA of the Rockies stated that approximately 25% of their employees commute in as well. He went on to say that they’ve seen a number of qualified applicants who would love to live in the Estes Valley but about half of them will drop out when they see how difficult it is to secure housing.

Anthony DeSousa, owner of Antonio’s Pizza said that his biggest problem is retaining employees. “What I’ve seen is that park visitation has increased year over year and that means more work for all of us. Thank God for international workers but the State Department is going to make it harder for international seasonal employees to get here. Business is up 26% over last year but where do I get 26% more workers?” He went on to say, “We all need to make room for people trying to climbing the ladder to success.”

Diane Muno, owner of the Spruce House and several businesses said “It’s not just our large employers that should be part of the conversation, this has to be a community conversation and a community solution. We have to remember that our workforce contributes to this community too. They take their kids to school, they sit on nonprofit boards and they are here but we need to offer them more opportunities.”

Randy Hunt, Director of Community Development said that the Estes Valley Development Code is not serving the valley as well as it could. He said that there are nine current proposed changes to the Development Code that are online at the Town’s website and that the building height in mixed residential zones for workforce housing is just one piece to a bigger puzzle. “There are three things that we can do. One, spread out, two, go up, or three, do neither and watch things get worse. So the choice to go up is a practical choice.”

Real Estate Agent and Developer Seth Hanson said that from a developer’s perspective it’s a formula, and they trying to figure out if a project is viable. “I have fixed costs that are what they are so the only thing you can play with is density. If we need to make things affordable we need more units to get my costs down.”

Architect Steve Lane agreed with Seth. “In terms of height, if you think about your site, you have building, parking lot etc. So if you build out, you get a hard surface with no green space. It also creates drainage issues. So an aid in creating more green space, a better product and smaller footprint is a height increase.”

Business owner Greg Rosener said “I want to talk about our retirement community. They obviously have a say in what happens here. But without a solid workforce, there’s less money coming through the community and their services are going to suffer. If nothing is done to resolve the workforce housing issue, then the Housing Study that was done should just be put away. Without action, these studies mean nothing.”  

If you would like to view a video of the forum, please visit our Home Page.