Decades after company towns disappeared from the American landscape, a new generation of civic and business leaders is reinventing the concept of employer-assisted housing—with the emphasis on assistance, not exploitation.
Businesses in areas from Silicon Valley to Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., have begun to recognize that attracting and retaining employees increasingly means helping them find reasonably priced housing—even when that might mean providing the housing themselves.
Employer-funded housing is cropping up in places as diverse as ski resorts and hospitals. In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the Wintergreen Resort last year opened a 16-unit apartment building that can house up to 96 seasonal workers at a weekly cost of $86 per person.
Most businesses that are interested in helping fund housing for their workers don’t have the development expertise to do this on their own, so experienced apartment developers can tap into this market by partnering with interested employers.
The Wintergreen Resort’s project, called Blue Ridge Commons, was built in partnership with Turner Wicks, Inc., a commercial and residential builder, and VMDO Architects, a design firm. Both are based in Charlottesville, Va. “This new facility will be instrumental in our recruiting efforts,” said Jeff Duncan, Wintergreen’s vice president of human resources, when construction began last year.
Baptist Health South Florida, a network of five hospitals, is converting an apartment complex it once used to house international patients into apartments for its employees, and is looking into building new rental housing on some other land it owns, according to spokeswoman Anne Streeter.
Minnesota has been a leader in encouraging employers to get involved in providing housing for their workers. The Greater Minnesota Housing Fund (GMHF) has provided about $15 million to assist dozens of housing initiatives funded with another $18.6 million from employers.
The largest such effort, in the Rochester area, tapped $6 million from the Mayo Clinic and $12.1 million from other area employers, the GMHF, and other sources to build 600 houses and 275 rental townhomes. In Marshall, the Schwan Food Co., Inc., teamed up with the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership to build a $16.7 million, 131-unit housing development that includes 48 rental units and 83 single-family homes.