Housing Shortage Could Affect Cape Cod Workforce This Summer

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2022/04/22/housing-shortage-could-impact-cape-cod-workforce-this-summer/

By Elyse Kelly
The Center Square

Restaurants, quaint seaside inns, and other hospitality businesses along the Massachusetts coast are struggling to find enough workers to operate heading into peak tourism season.

Workers are there, but housing isn’t, according to business owners.

Tom Shirk, owner of the White Porch Inn Art Hotel on Cape Cod, said it is difficult to hire staff that can’t find housing.

“One of the biggest challenges right now is not just finding workers – there are regular workers that do come back in our business and for a lot of others over the years – the biggest challenge we’re facing right now is for many of the regulars, we can’t find housing,” he told The Center Square

Much of the housing that used to be available as long-term rentals has been converted to tourist lodging as landlords take advantage of high demand and rent out at a higher rate, according to Shirk.

Larger employers have a few more options, according to Paul Niedzwiecki, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

“Larger employers have purchased older hotel/motels and converted into seasonal housing for their employees,” Niedzwiecki told The Center Square. “I think there’s going to be more of that.”

But smaller employers don’t have those kinds of resources.

In an attempt to make do, Shirk is doubling up employees in his hotel’s one staff unit, but that’s not enough.

“We’re out looking, but the cost is also – if you can find something over the peak months – the cost is often just prohibitive,” Shirk said.

Shirk said his hotel started hiring earlier than normal, interviewing people who already had housing.

Most of the area’s housing is single-family homes. Niedzwiecki said the housing market has gone wild since the pandemic, with the average home price skyrocketing from $400,000 to more than $660,000.

“Thirty-seven percent of the housing stock Cape-wide are second homes,” Neidzwiecki said. “So as the real estate market has overheated during COVID-19, a lot of those second homes were purchased by people who are going to live in them year-round, and many of those second homes were used as year-round rentals so the people who were renting have been displaced, and there’s just a lot fewer housing opportunities for the seasonal workforce.”

This isn’t a new problem, but it’s gotten extreme since COVID-19. Shirk tells of last season where restaurants were forced to close on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to keep their skeleton crew from burning out.

Advanced bookings at the White Porch Inn are very high and Shirk said he anticipates a busy season this year as well.

“I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen if we’re not able to do certain things over the summer,” Shirk said.

Potential solutions include changing zoning laws to allow for the building of more housing, raising wages to compete with higher housing costs, and attracting workers who live within commuting distance, according to Niedzwiecki.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to heal itself and we’re just going to return to how the labor market was in 2019,” Niedzwiecki said.


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