How does Holy Cross handle its housing? |

How does Holy Cross handle its housing?

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

EDWARDS ” No business owner likes to turn down work. That’s why Liz O’Brien thinks it’s time to lease more local apartments.

O’Brien is the local human resources manager for Denver-based Encore Electric. The company has about 60 electricians working in the Vail Valley at the moment.

“But we’ve had to turn down jobs because we don’t have anyplace for people to live,” O’Brien said.

That’s why O’Brien, along with several other human resources managers, attended a Thursday lunch panel discussion hosted by the local chapter of the High Country Human Resources Association. Panelists talked about what their organizations are doing for their own employees, and, in the case of the Vail and Eagle County housing directors, what they’re doing for valley employees.

Vail officials have spent years putting together a variety of for-sale and rental units, town housing director Nina Timm said. So far, the town has been able to put together its housing collection on its own.

That’s going to change with the next one, a project in West Vail at the site of the former Wendy’s restaurant.

Given the soaring costs of construction, Timm said the town is looking for employers to literally buy into the program from the start.

“We’re looking for partners now,” Timm said.

While Vail and the county continue to add inventory and create new programs, Holy Cross Energy and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District have had programs in place for several years. In the case of the electric company, some employees have lived in employer-subsidized rental units for 20 years or more.

Both the electric company and water district need people who can respond quickly to problems. Both utilities want their on-call people to live no more than a 30-minute drive from the offices they work from.

That’s required some creativity, in the form of subsidizing rent, and creating down payment assistance programs that essentially provide a full down payment to buyers. Those down payments have to be repaid when an employee either moves or stops working for the utilities.

“At first it was a matter of response time,” water district human resources manager Angelo Fernandez said. “Now it a recruitment and retention issue.”

Most employers in the valley don’t have the resources to set up their own home-buyers’ assistance programs. That’s where local government and a nonprofit group come in.

Eagle County has several programs available to buyers, county housing director Alex Potente said. Some of those programs are managed by Funding Partners, a nonprofit organization that works with employers of virtually any size to provide programs to get people into homes.

While “thinking outside the box” is a popular cliche in situations that require creativity, “We’re not sure there is a box any more,” Funding Partners director Joe Rowan said.

“If you have a dual income household in the Eagle County, there are no less than six programs available.”

That came as good news to a small group of brokers from Keller Williams Realty.

“I have a lot of friends who want to buy a home,” broker Kerry Brown said. “It’s good to know about the resources that are available.”

Fellow broker Liz Leeds said even if people aren’t potential clients, “It’s good to know what’s out there so we can point them in the right direction.”

For O’Brien and Encore Electric, though, leasing apartments makes the most sense. The company already has 10 units, leased in and around Vail, O’Brien said.

“But it looks like we’re going to need more,” she said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or

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