In need of more employee housing, the ski company Aspen Snowmass made its own tiny-house village.
The 6-acre village, built on a campground, can house 120 people and has plans to double in size.
Aspen, Colorado, and affordability are practically antonyms.
It's the most expensive ski town in the US when it comes to property, according to a 2021 report from Engel & Völkers, a global real-estate company. And the average visitor spends nearly $300 on nightly accommodations and $200 on ski-lift tickets, according to Home to Go.
The lack of affordability doesn't just affect vacationers; it also impacts the people who keep the town running, operating ski lifts, pouring cocktails, selling designer clothes, and working at hotel concierge desks.
Aspen Snowmass, the town's largest employer and the name behind four ski areas, found a solution to scarce housing options for its workers in tiny homes.
In 2016, Aspen Snowmass placed six 500-square-foot tiny homes in the Aspen-Basalt Campground. The pilot program was such a success that there are now 40 tiny houses and plans for more.
Affordable housing, a must for seasonal workers, is increasingly hard to find
When Blake Sims was hired for the winter season at Aspen Snowmass, he told Insider that finding a cheap place to live was the only way he could take the job.
"With the salary we get, living here is not doable," the ski-lift operator at Buttermilk said.
It's a familiar challenge for ski companies. One way Aspen Snowmass entices low-wage workers is with housing assistance, Philip Jeffreys, a planning and development project manager for Aspen Snowmass, told Insider.
Each season, departments at Aspen Snowmass, like hospitality or ski lifts, are allotted a certain number of beds, Jeffreys said. From there, each department chooses how to use them, whether for new hires or returning workers.
When Sims was hired to work the ski lifts, he was given four options: two shared apartments, a room in a tiny house, or whatever housing he could find for himself. The last wasn't viable, "unless I wanted to live out of my car," he said.
Sims picked the tiny house, which was the cheapest choice. For $550 a month — between $100 and $200 less than the other options — Sims said he would have his own bedroom and be about an hourlong bus ride from his job.
A 500-square-foot solution for affordable housing
In 2008, Aspen Snowmass bought the Aspen-Basalt Campground for worker housing, according to The Aspen Times.
One option was to rezone the 6.6-acre lot, but that would be timely and expensive, Jeffreys said.
So he turned to tiny homes. In 2016, the company bought six 500-square-foot homes for $100,000 each. Each tiny house houses two people and is technically an RV since it sits on wheels, has a license plate, and uses traditional RV hookups for utilities.
"It's been really successful," Jeffreys said. For Aspen Snowmass, the village cost less than it would to rezone and build an apartment complex.
In 2017, Aspen Snowmass bought 34 more tiny homes. Each cost about the same and could house three people, he said. What was once a campground became a tiny-house village for 120 workers.
While tiny homes helped alleviate some of Aspen Snowmass' need for housing, it's not enough. The ski company continues to face a shortage, The Aspen Times reported. This year, Aspen Snowmass rented out a hotel in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, for additional housing.
"It is a scarce resource," Jeffreys said. "Even though we have over 1,000 beds in our portfolio, that's only about a quarter of our workforce."
Jeffreys said there were plans to add at least 25 larger tiny homes to the village that would have space for four people, which would nearly double the village's occupancy.
Each tiny house has all the features of a small apartment
The tiny homes vary in size, shape, and layout based on whether it's a two- or three-bedroom tiny house, Jeffreys said.
The majority are 600 square feet and fit three people with a living area, kitchen, bathroom, extra vanity, one ground-level bedroom, and two lofted bedrooms.
"We surveyed folks and the things that came out were, 'We want privacy and affordable prices,'" Jeffreys said.
Privacy is what Sims is most thankful for in his tiny house. He said he has coworkers who share dorm-style rooms or railroad apartments.
"I honestly think I got the best deal," he said. "There's privacy in the rooms, and I know some others don't have that."
Jeffreys said the rent, which is between $470 and $600, was competitive, if not cheaper, than most of the other housing options Aspen Snowmass offered.
Outside the tiny house, residents receive access to storage units, a laundry room, a common lounge, and green space for gardening or outdoor activities.
The tiny houses provide more than just a home. There's also a sense of community.
A paper sign posted on the door to the community lounge room reads, "tiny town turn-up Tuesdays." The weekly BYOB event was initiated by residents, Melody Kappeli, the property's community manager, told Insider.
For months, every Tuesday, a group gathered to play board games, drink, and, if Sims was around, listen to him DJ.
With "tiny town turn-up Tuesdays" on pause because of COVID-19, Sims and a few of his neighbors recently transformed a green space into a terrain park for skiing. That outdoor area is something Sims and his neighbors wouldn't have access to in a traditional apartment complex.
Overall, Sims said he'd been surprised by the bonds he made.
"I made some really good friends," he said. "The community is awesome here."
Read the original article on Insider