Ski town problem: Steamboat looks to decrease employee housing density

Last spring, MSJ analyzed the workforces and populations of five American ski towns to outline what is amounting to a widening gap between the haves and have nots in these areas. 

Called “The ski town problem,” the mini study examined and discussed what is no secret to the people who live, or tried to live, in these areas: Housing prices in these areas continue to climb while workforce wages remain low. 

“In the ski industry, the people who own those mansions expect a certain level of service that workers need to provide. The problem is that the prices of those mansions have created a housing market that is increasingly expensive, while workers’ salaries remain at the service level.
Ski resorts and ski towns rely on young, cheap workforces that sacrifice it all for the quality of life associated with living in the mountains, but many workers are having trouble finding housing and affording it.”

“The ski town problem” – Midwest Ski Journal, April 1, 2018

Those that make the life decision to live in these towns can argue they aren’t looking for a glamorous or even comfortable living situation. For them it’s about the quality of life associated with waking up every day in a place where they can ski and be a part of mountain culture. 

However, a recent action by the city of Steamboat Springs, Colorado (as outlined by the Steamboat Pilot and Today) is putting a dent in one strategy for making ski town living affordable. 

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According to the story by Eleanor C. Hasenbeck of the Pilot and Today, “Six unrelated people are not considered a family in multifamily housing units such as apartments and condominiums.” 

The article says the issue was brought before the Steamboat Springs City Council after some code violations were reported in Steamboat Springs Resorts’ employee housing, where people can pack themselves into living units in order to make rent affordable.

Six people were living in each of the 30 units at the employee housing area, which is extremely dense housing and surely cause for concern for the city. Employees were paying just $260 per month in the six-person units and $390 for four-person units. 

Interestingly, one resident of the employee housing commented that living in such high density was not a good idea and that the residents wish they were paid higher wages so they could live elsewhere. 

Another commenter, who was for the re-definition of “family” and against the dense housing said the problem was really the lack of housing in the community. By keeping the rules the same and allowing the close-quarters living, he said, change to the amount of housing in Steamboat would never come. 

Source: @skisteamboat via @shannonlukens on Twitter

This is tricky. On one hand, you want these employees to be able to live together and keep costs low enough to live out their mountain town dream. On the other hand, if you let them continue to pack into these tiny units, they will continue to do so and more housing won’t be necessary, keeping these people in squalor. 

For Midwesterners, it’s not a problem. The lifts still spin when we arrive for our trip during the winter and that’s because some people will do whatever it takes to make the ski town dream work. 

On social media, in magazines, on TV and on this site, skiing is portrayed as this rosy, magical experience, but it’s not all bluebird skies in this sport we love. 

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