Cape and Islands housing options for our nurses, doctors, certified nursing assistants (CNAs), and other essential personnel are extremely limited, resulting in healthcare operators facing the stark reality of becoming workforce housing developers.
State Senator Julian Cyr recently noted that, ‘Our failure on the housing front will be suffocating our ability to provide services to Cape Codders and Islanders. You can make $150,000 a year, and you can’t afford property in parts of the region.’ (Source)
CNAs, home health aides, paramedics, and other health care providers with low to middle income cannot afford to buy a house, and they may not be able to afford a year-round rental, which is exceedingly scarce at any price.
The pandemic has exacerbated this long-term housing problem. As the year-round population on Cape Cod and the Islands has increased, and home prices have soared, most housing stock has sold to the highest bidder, resulting in a dearth of once reasonably priced rental properties or starter homes.
Workforce housing provided by employers working in conjunction with local government and non-profit agencies is one solution gaining traction. In addition to fair pay, this subsidized, or below-market housing may be the best solution to recruiting and retaining those who work in healthcare, elder-care, or emergency services.
One nursing home operator on Cape Cod is already having success with this model. At Broad Reach Healthcare in Chatham in 2018, CEO Bill Bogdanovich was “struggling to find workers for his nursing home and assisted living center [so he] tried a new strategy: Buying properties on the southeastern elbow of Cape Cod to rent to employees.”
“He offered below-market rents to workers, many recruited from off the Cape and as far away as Puerto Rico, who were having trouble finding places to live. His gambit appears to have paid off: Bogdanovich has been able to hire and retain more workers — the better for his senior housing residents, and for business.” (Source)
Also making this connection before the pandemic was Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’s CEO, Denise Schepici. In May of 2019, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital opened Hanover House, purchased by the Island Housing Trust, with 12 single rooms and en suite bathrooms, for year-round rentals. Additionally, there is a shared kitchen, dining room, and other living spaces. (Source)
Now in 2022, through a partnership with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, my company, Navigator Homes of Martha’s Vineyard, is building five Green House Project inspired homes for a total of 70-older adults in need of skilled nursing care, to replace Windemere, the island’s only nursing home.
Adjacent to the Navigator site, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has committed to build new employee housing to accommodate 76 bedrooms, of which 30 will be available to the staff of the Navigator Skilled Nursing Green House community. Our CNAs, nurses, and housekeepers will be able to live in affordable housing that is a five-minute walk from their work.
These apartments will be one- and two-bedroom apartments with rents capped at below market so that the workforce for both Navigator and the hospital can afford to live on the Island.
In a recent discussion with the Edgartown Planning Board, Ms. Schepici stated, “MV Hospital is committed to providing housing for those members of our caregiving teams with the least ability to pay for market rents or mortgages on the Island.”
In the last two years, a day does not go by that we do not read about the challenges faced by our providers of medical, nursing, and home care services. While innovation continues to evolve in the delivery of care, federal, state, and local policies must aide, and not restrict efforts to expand critical housing options for essential employees.
Without them, who will care for us?
Renee Lohman is the president and CEO of Navigator Homes of New England LLC, and Navigator Homes of Martha’s Vineyard, Inc.