School district looks at how to tackle employee housing in the valley

Looking at recruitment and retention

[ By Kendra Walker ]

The Gunnison Watershed School District is among the many groups in the valley now looking at options to attain affordable housing for its employees, and the school board held a work session on Monday, August 22 to identify goals and opportunities to supply housing for district staff in the future.

Jennifer Kermode of the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority (GVRHA) sat in on the meeting, and walked the board through a recent housing market update for the valley, which has identified the need for 960 units by 2026. The North Valley’s current median housing list price is $1,750,000 and the South Valley’s is $750,000. Since 2016, the North Valley has experienced a 17 percent increase in rental costs, and the South Valley has experienced a 15 percent rent increase.

Kermode explained that employers have increased many of the ways in which they are assisting their employees with housing, including higher wages, master leases and relocation assistance.

The school district currently has a duplex in Crested Butte for employee housing, which includes two, two-bedroom/two-bathroom units that is managed by the GVRHA. The duplex has had three different tenants since 2019, and the goal is that tenants occupy the space for approximately three years to encourage people to find roots in the valley and help others in need of housing.

The district has a workforce of approximately 400 people, and superintendent Leslie Nichols noted that they see nearly 80 new employees annually. She reiterated how the valley’s quality of life has attracted people here, but cost of living pressures are complicated when looking at recruitment and retention of staff.

“We’re identifying a concerning trend of being able to keep our schools fully staffed. I do think our focus has to be on kids and families and staff and our facilities, but this is part of our facilities,” she said. “Housing is absolutely an element for all of our classes of employees.”

Nichols walked the board through some potential goals of GWSD employee housing: providing stabilizing rental housing while employees find longer term housing solutions; supporting employee recruitment and retention; generating rental revenue in order to manage and maintain housing units; and creating equity that supports district facility needs.

Board member Tyler Martineau offered another goal. “That we would be able to ensure that our employees all have housing or that housing is not a limitation on our ability to staff our district on all levels,” he said. “Housing is now a contributing factor in the district’s ability to hire. The trends have been that it’s getting worse and worse and worse. Are we so sure we can staff our school in five years from now?”

Board member LeeAnn Mick agreed, “Five years from now, where will we be in terms of student growth, the number of people we need to have and the number of people we can’t bring on because we can’t find a place for them to live?”

In looking at how the district can create housing, the board agreed that a good goal moving forward would be to pursue opportunities in developing one or more of the district’s three properties in Gunnison. The properties include the old bus barn’s .57 acres on Ohio and 11th, 1 acre on the northwest corner parcel of Gunnison High School and about .5 acres on the southeast corner of the Gunnison Community School parcel.

“The capital that we have in property could be a possible solution,” said Nichols.

“If trends continue, we are going to need housing and we have three properties and we have goals to develop those properties,” said Martineau.

The board also agreed the district could look into hiring a temporary person who could help them with housing and facilities over the next few years, perhaps even partnering with Western or other valley entities to support that position.

I don’t think it’s something that we as a district could do by ourselves,” said Mick. “We need support from other organizations.
Nichols plans to draft up a plan around developing its land capitol for housing and getting a human resource for the board to consider at its next meeting.

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