Box 16. Case Study: Employee Housing

Box 16. Case Study: Employee Housing 1

When Shell Oil Company arrived in the small town of Harper, Kansas in 2011 to begin shale oil exploration, the company found limited housing options available for its employees. In fact, the town of about 1,500 struggled to provide adequate housing for some of its own citizens, especially seniors. The housing shortage meant that pressure for available housing could drive up rents, with low-income locals losing out to the higher-paid oil field workers.

Some local business owners then approached the company with a proposal—to build housing for Shell employees that would then revert to community use when the employees departed. Shell agreed to support this innovative solution. After carefully vetting several proposals, the sponsors selected builders for two projects who had long-standing community roots and a good sense of the needs of the local citizenry. 

The first project involved new construction, initially of 15 one-bedroom units, to be expanded to 32 units after Shell left town. The company agreed to pay for five of the units in exchange for their use as employee flex housing for up to one year. Shell then provided support for the construction of several more bedroom units and common areas. The builder expanded on this initial footprint with two-bedroom apartments to complete the project.

For the second project, the builder renovated the upper stories of a local bank. Six additional employee apartments were created in this space, with laundry facilities and Wi-Fi making them desirable accommodations. To support administration and planning for Shell personnel, the company decided to add a boardroom to this facility.

As discussed in the section above, housing temporary workers, especially in rural areas, can be challenging. This collaboration between Shell and community entrepreneurs resulted in a plan that avoided both shortsighted overbuilding and the displacement of low-income residents. Shell stayed in Harper for approximately 18 months, with comfortable accommodations for its workers, and the town received much-needed housing for its senior citizens and other temporary residents.

For more information on this housing case study, contact RESOLVE at      


  1. Interview by Kathleen Arcuri of Shell staff, June 2014.