Master leasing is gaining interest in Eagle County

Having places makes recruitment easier for local businesses

Vail Health recently renewed a block of master leases at the Middle Creek Village apartments.
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It’s always been somewhere between “tricky” and “really, really hard” to find a place to rent in Eagle County. That’s why a growing number of employers are providing housing for the people they hire.

Some companies and organizations have long provided places their employees can rent, or provide down payment assistance for those who wish to buy.

Other companies, including Holy Cross Energy, own their own rental property, and make it exclusively available to their employees. The Sonnenalp in 2019 opened the rebuilt Solar Vail apartments. Of the building’s 65 units, 47 are reserved for Sonnenalp employees. Vail Health signed a “master lease” for eight of the remaining units.

Vail Health has long been in the business of helping house its workers. The practice started when the Middle Creek Village apartments opened in the early 2000s. The complex is walking distance from Vail Health Hospital, so it’s a great fit for those who work at that facility.

Vail Health Chief Real Estate Development Officer Craig Cohn said the organization recently reupped 10-year master leases at Middle Creek when a batch of those leases was about to expire.

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Vail Health is also working to expand its inventory of units available to employees. An entire building at Avon’s new Piedmont apartments is master leased to Vail Health, and Cohn said Vail Health is working on a few land acquisition deals in the Vail Valley. He added that the organization wants to have another 60 or so units available within the next two or three years.

Homes near work

While no deals are complete, it won’t be surprising if some, if not most, of that new housing is in the Edwards area. Vail Health this year will start work on a new medical campus in that area.

While Vail Health is looking for opportunities as it expands its operations in Summit County and the Roaring Fork Valley, Cohn said the priority right now is the Vail Valley. But, he said he also recently spoke to a Summit County developer about prospects for a project there.

Interest is growing in master leasing housing among other businesses in the valley.

Eagle County Housing Director Kim Bell Williams said employers at small, medium and large businesses are recognizing that “housing is their biggest challenge” when it comes to recruiting and retaining people.

Bell Williams noted there are a number of units leased by employers at the Lake Creek Village apartments in Edwards. And, while the county is in the process of selling Lake Creek, Bell Williams said the county will have priority to rent 16 units at the complex.

Bell Williams said in addition to master leasing, some employers offer a housing subsidy to get people into homes. Eagle County Schools has done that for a number of years, she said.

Vail Housing Director George Ruther agreed there’s increasing interest in master leasing units from business owners. But one former large tenant at the west side of Timber Ridge has reduced its leases at the property. Vail Resorts once master leased more than half of the 98 units on the west half of the property. The company now has master leases on 18 two-bedroom units there.

Vail Resorts still owns land in East Vail zoned for employee housing, although there’s no current proposal for that property.

Ruther said that’s cleared space for other, smaller, businesses to master lease units. He expects that to continue when Timber Ridge is rebuilt, probably with at least 200 units.

Helping with ownership, too

While master leasing can provide employers with a way to ensure their people have places to live, one perk seems to have disappeared.

Ruther said employers who master leased units once got a bit of a price break for tenants in exchange for keeping rent coming in 12 months a year.

Given the current shortage of rental housing, “I don’t think that happens any more,” Ruther said.

In addition to master leasing, companies and organizations sometimes help employees buy homes.

The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District has in the past built a number of deed-restricted units it sells to employees.

Bell Williams noted that Eagle County’s “buy-down” program was recently used in order to allow a local restaurant’s head chef to buy a home with a subsidized down payment. That home is now deed restricted, which limits the appreciation on a unit.

Cohn said Vail Health has a program to help employees buy homes. Cohn said the down payment assistance from the organization doesn’t have to be repaid, although homes are deed restricted for future buyers.

Master leasing and down payment assistance can be a powerful recruitment tool, Ruther said.

Ruther said companies including the Sonnenalp and the Sweet Basil restaurant have long-running programs.

“That’s why they have a track record of recruiting the best of the best,” Ruther said.

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