The North Tahoe region’s housing crisis has come to define this area almost as much as the white winter slopes that draw millions to play — and thousands to live in this community each year.Everyone from local jurisdictions to nonprofits to businesses has weighed in on the housing debate over the years, and in a resort economy one of the biggest challenges has been the effort to provide adequate workforce housing for both year-round residents and seasonal workers. Our local resorts support the economy by employing the majority of our workforce, and all those employees need affordable housing options. So what exactly are our local resorts doing to help with housing solutions?
For Gregg Dallas, president and CEO of Sugar Bowl, a focus on housing for his staff is not just about sustaining the employment levels necessary to run a large and profitable resort; it’s about community.
“I think if you’re a business, ski resort or not, in the local area, this issue is top of mind,” Dallas told Moonshine Ink. “And everybody has to question, what are you doing as a business to resolve this issue? Really the endgame is that we all want a vibrant, thriving, local community. Housing and our workforce are a critical part of that. Everybody should be engaged.”
The Nuts and Bolts of Employee Housing in North Tahoe
Sugar Bowl, Northstar, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, and Tahoe Donner are among the 29 Mountain Housing Council partners that have been working to bring more housing to the region since 2017. That role has primarily consisted of general support of housing initiatives, but has also led to some more tangible steps toward solving the housing crisis faced by their employees.
Most resorts offer housing resources of some kind to their employees. Northstar offers the Candlestick Housing Campus; Squaw has limited employee apartments as well as a
“residential rewards” program that incentivizes owners of property near the resort to rent to their employees through master leasing, allowing employees to sublet homes in Olympic
Valley. Tahoe Donner also sets up master leases with homeowners who trust the HOA to maintain the integrity of their properties. Tahoe Donner offers these employee sublets first to employees on a J1 visa (which allows for international work or study exchange and is frequently used by resort employees) before housing noninternational workers.
The most direct solution resorts can utilize is housing their employees themselves, and as one of the larger independent resorts in the area, Sugar Bowl currently houses about 180
employees. Boreal operates a 150-person bed base in shared dormitory-style accommodations and also partnered with a campground in Cisco Grove to provide their employees with discounted rates for RV sites and a move-in special on their tiny homes.
Every local resort Moonshine Ink spoke to about this issue sees it as a priority, and yet there are a handful of resorts outside the area that have taken much more aggressive action on workforce housing solutions.
“It’s worth noting that the housing challenges we face are different in each region, and state, where we operate,” said Liesl Hepburn, Squaw’s public relations director, on how Squaw Alpine’s housing initiatives compare to those of other Alterra-owned resorts.
“It’s not necessarily apples to apples in terms of housing inventory, cost to rent, cost to build, and regulatory agency/government requirements. Our region in particular has lots of these.”
The Employee Housing Gold Standard
Wendy Sullivan, a principal with South Lake Tahoe-based firm WSW Consulting, specializes in conducting housing needs assessments for mountain towns or as she calls them, “high-amenity communities” — for the volume of recreation, tourism, and hospitality opportunities.
“I think [North Tahoe resorts] are taking good steps,” Sullivan told Moonshine. “Can they do more? Yes, every place can do more. Absolutely they can learn through other areas
what’s worked and what hasn’t. The Mountain Housing Council has been trying to pull information on what the best practices are elsewhere.”
According to Sullivan, whose list of clients includes places like Big Sky, Whitefish, Bozeman, Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, Santa Fe, and Colorado’s front range communities for over 20
years, Aspen, Colorado is one of a few resort towns North Tahoe resorts could learn a thing or two from.
“The communities where we see the resorts being the most active and most beneficial and diverse for their workforce are actually the ski resorts that are still independently owned,” she said.
Aspen Skiing Company provides not just dorm-style housing to its employees but a range of housing types, including housing that resort workers can raise a family or grow old in.
“Aspen has recognized that to be the premier resort they are, and to provide the level of service that they are expected to provide, they need to have employees that are there year after year after year. And they’ve realized that being able to house them up there year-round is a key component to allowing that to happen,” Sullivan said.
Other gold standards according to Sullivan are Colorado’s Breckenridge, Telluride, Crested Butte, and Vail, as well as Mammoth, our neighbor to the south. Sullivan said the most important aspect of these places’ approaches is that they take a comprehensive, “multifaceted” approach. “The key is having strong leadership and strong community buy-in, which means strong communication as well,” she said.
Sullivan also notes that resorts can play a strong role in solving seasonal housing challenges because that’s often hard for the private market to tackle.
Both year-round and seasonal housing for resort employees remain a challenge for the Truckee/Tahoe area, and though our local resorts might not yet offer the employee perks that give a place like Aspen a reputation for lifties with the financial stability to work the same job from their 20s well into their 70s, this area does have one thing Sullivan see as promising.
Thanks to the work of the Mountain Housing Council in fostering collaboration over competition in the area, diverse stakeholders including resorts and other partners are starting to pool resources and maximize their effectiveness.
“Community housing is a community issue. Even if resorts build housing for 100% of their seasonal workers, you would still have housing issues up here. There’s no one solution or way to address the problem,” Sullivan said. “It really takes the contribution of everyone. Yes, the large employers and resorts. Yes, the community, the towns and jurisdictions. Yes, even chambers and local nonprofits and community foundations and the general public and private developers all need to play a role to address this issue.”
Main Image Caption: AT HOME ON THE SLOPES, employees of ski resorts like Northstar enjoy the perk of shredding the gnar on their breaks, but in a housing market stretched to its breaking point, especially for members of the workforce, staff and resorts alike need to get creative. Photo courtesy Northstar California Resort