By Fred Thys/VTDigger
Housing is so tight in Vermont that some job applicants are turning down employment offers because they cannot find a place to live.
Hearing hirees say “no” to job offers because they are giving up on their house search is a problem recruiters are facing in state and municipal government, nonprofit organizations and businesses. The state government’s recruiters started noticing the problem in the last 12 months and it heated up this spring, said Doug Pine, Vermont’s deputy director of human resources.
“The actual number of people is not that huge, but when it does happen, it kind of hurts,” Pine said. That’s because the issue is prevalent among highly skilled positions in some of the areas that are “very hard to fill right now,” he said, including health care, engineering, information technology, finance and attorneys.
Pine said the state recently lost a civil engineer this way. The person had just graduated from college and was “exactly the kind of person we would like to bring in and train and have them potentially create a career with us,” Pine said. But they couldn’t find housing in the timeframe they discussed with the hiring manager.
“We don’t want to lose trained people like that,” he said.
A highly trained health care professional accepted an offer from the state, said Pine, and her husband accepted an offer from another Vermont employer. They were supposed to move from California, but after months of looking for housing, they backed out.
“So we as a state lost two highly paid and highly trained folks who just couldn’t find a house,” Pine said.
The state government does not track how many people from out of state turn down job offers in Vermont — whether for jobs in the private sector or state government — but it’s enough that it has become a concern for the state’s recruiters, Pine said.
About a fifth of the applicants for jobs in state government come from outside Vermont, he said.
Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools recently lost two people who were offered jobs but could not find a place to live, said Superintendent Libby Bonesteel.
“They can’t accept our offer because they looked for housing and can’t find it,” Bonesteel said.
The positions are still open, she said. The University of Vermont Health Network has encountered similar challenges.
“We’ve had nurses, medical technologists, doctors say they want to accept a position and then begin the process of looking and have to actually turn down the contract,” said Al Gobeille, the health network’s executive vice president for operations. “It’s a serious issue.”
So the network is building 61 apartments on Market Street in South Burlington, about a mile and a half from the UVM Medical Center in Burlington. Gobeille expects the first employees will move in next March. He said the network is working out how to make the apartments affordable to employees.
Snyder Braverman Development Co. is building the apartments and would manage the building under a 10-year master lease with UVM Health Network, Gobeille said.
Even the people whose job it is to create more housing are having trouble hiring. “We have several folks we’re trying to recruit to work on housing issues that can’t find housing in the state,”said Josh Hanford, the commissioner of housing and community development.
Nonprofit housing advocates face a similar problem. “I couldn’t give you an exact number of how many people we’ve lost, but it’s a real issue,”said David Martins, director of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition.
The problem affects businesses as well.
“We have heard this from some employers,” said Lindsay Kurrle, Vermont secretary of commerce and community development.
Justin Barrett, chef and owner of Piecemeal Pies, had found just the right person to open up his new Stowe location,which started serving brunch this weekend.
“I had a front-of-house manager who was looking to move back to Vermont who couldn’t find housing closer than South Burlington,” Barrett said.“So that didn’t work out at the last minute.”
He had a baker who was looking to move back to Vermont from Ithaca, New York.
“But they’re still trapped there because they can’t find anything,” he said.
It’s not just people who live out of state who are turning down jobs in Vermont because they cannot find housing. Barrett said a cook who lives in Brattleboro wanted to work either in Stowe or in the bakery’s original White River Junction location, but could not find housing in either area.
“It’s a shame because we really connected with these people and we’re excited to be a part of them starting a new community,” Barrett said. “They told me that it’s not even that housing is too expensive. It’s that there’s zero available.”
He said all of his Stowe employees either live within walking distance or drive 40 minutes. His head baker drives 90 minutes each way from Middlebury. She had hoped to close on a property near Stowe byt that fell through and “there is nothing else,” Barrett said.
“I’m worried I’m going to lose her,” he said.
A couple of foreign students are working for him under visas this summer, he said. They want to come back next year but only if he can find housing for them.
“It seems like the only way to do it would be to ourselves buy a property and rent it out to our employees, which totally isn’t feasible,”Barrettsaid.
“So not only am I missing out on some folks but I’m worried I’m going to lose the really great team I have because of their traveltime,” he said.