A $5 million funding bill before the Massachusetts House of Representatives would provide relief for Island businesses and their seasonal employees struggling with chronic housing affordability problems.
Although the proposal’s political fate is uncertain, it would be a welcome buttress to disparate housing and retraining strategies already playing out on the Vineyard, where employers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to sustain a stable workforce.
Today’s official opening of the Edgartown affordable housing development Morgan Woods is one indication of how the Island is trying to retain resident workers, notably in the public sector — police officers, school teachers and administrators.
“We have Island workers living here, including policeman, lawyers, EMTs and chefs,” said Jessica Burgoyne, property manager of Community Builders Inc. which built and manages the 21-building, 60-unit rental complex. Morgan Woods already is nearly fully occupied, though the official opening is at 12:30 today.
Martha’s Vineyard Hospital grapples with affordable housing for its staff by spending $600,000 a year to subsidize housing for medical staff and physicians — a significant amount but necessary to provide the level of care the hospital requires, according to Kenneth Chisholm, director of human resources at the hospital.
Much of the money is spent during peak summer season.
Now, the hospital sees a retraining program as a means to provide additional year-round coverage from Island-based staff.
Often, emigration occurs after employees receive career training and experience at town or business expense, several observers noted.
For the hospital, “our retraining program is a perfect example of creating a solution for a situation in which it’s impossible to get an licensed practical nurse to come here,” said Mr. Chisholm, noting that the hospital manages about 25 housing units, some it owns but the majority rented for seasonal medical staff.
“We have six traveling nurses working year-round, positions that could be filled by Island residents,” he said.
Currently eight Island residents are enrolled in a two-year LPN program, potentially replacing short-term travelers both at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and at the main hospital.
Meanwhile the statewide proposal to assist seasonal workers is part of a bill whose primary focus is to add stringent requirements for mortgage lenders in the Bay state.
Senate bill 2299, introduced by Robert P. Spellane (D-Worchester) and Jarrett Barrios (D-Cambridge) now in the house ways and means committee after unanimous passage by the senate, would provide up to $5 million per year to commonwealth businesses and seasonal employees. Essentially the legislation would authorize state funds to underwrite one-third of rental or purchase of housing by seasonal workers for employers that provide two-thirds of the housing cost. The scheme would set income limits for employees to qualify and would provide oversight through data collection and required filings.
If the bill succeeded in the House and met the governor’s approval to become law, the program could be appropriated no earlier that the 2008 season, according to Eric T. Turkington, state representative for towns on the Cape and Islands.
While the bill has attracted little public attention since its amended filing and Senate passage in July, its potential has great interest to local legislators, housing agencies and businesses. “We’ve all seen the problem. It’s a dilemma elsewhere but a crisis on the Island,” said Mr. Turkington.
“We need to see if it’s enacted and whether there is there is money for it,” he siad.
“But the concept is good because it recognizes that employers are a key to the solution. Employers have got it address the issue. I’ve seen employers and communities do it on the Island and on the Cape. Morgan Woods in Edgartown is a great example,” he said.