A new housing facility is scheduled to be able to host seasonal workers in Ocean City in time for the spring tourist season. The housing project will be on Dorchester Street in downtown Ocean City.
The project, which Ocean City Development Corp. helped manage, will include 54 beds for seasonal workers, and it is slated to be certified (for housing) within a week. With rising costs of real estate and development, the housing relied on two state grants for completion.
Beachhurst LLC, a family-owned firm, developed the project.
“The lack of workforce housing has a dramatic impact on the business community,” said Glenn Irwin, executive director of Ocean City Development Corp. “Our organization is continuing to invest in workforce housing, but more is needed to make sure we have the workers we need every year.”
The Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development; Community Development Network of Maryland; Ocean City Development Corp; a representative from the office of state Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, R-38; the Ocean City mayor and the president of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce met online to preview the seasonal housing Wednesday.
The preview was part of a virtual panel discussion about the issue of workforce housing needs for the town, which organizers described as a “housing crisis.”
Eight thousand to 10,000 seasonal workers are employed in Ocean City during the summer, according to the Community Development Network of Maryland.
The town has a 3,000-bed shortage for seasonal workers in the summer, according to Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan.
The seasonal workforce housing need affects more than hotels and restaurants. Meehan said several seasonal jobs help fill positions with lifeguards, town departments and the Ocean City Police Department.
The town draws 5,000 J-1 students.
Especially with J-1 students, “(If) we don’t have housing for them, they’re not going to be able to come,” Meehan said.
The town has had a low number of J-1 visa workers during the past two summers due to COVID-19, Meehan said.
“If that continues because of lack of housing, I think that puts us in a critical position,” Meehan said.
Cost to build
Lachelle Scarlato, president of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, said while she wants Ocean City to be able to continue to develop, the town first needs to possess housing for the existing summer workforce.
“We need what we’re speaking of presently to meet the present demand” but would need more if business in the town grew, Scarlato said.
As the cost of real estate in Ocean City continues to rise, financial assistance is becoming vital to the creation of workforce housing.
Given the cost per square foot in Ocean City, “This housing will not be able to exist without underwriting,” Scarlato said.
Connecting workers with housing
Kasey Simon is president of United Work and Travel, one of the sponsor organizations that pair international students up with employers. He said during the discussion that businesses can increase the chances of their employees finding housing by offering to help, adding that many Ocean City businesses already do this.
In addition to housing availability, the housing must be clean and located within biking or walking distance from a job as international students do not have cars, Simon said. Other characteristics summer workers expect are bike racks, central air conditioning and Wi-Fi, and preferably access to a washer and dryer.
Previously, some Ocean City workers lived in housing where six or seven people shared a single bathroom, and Simon said sponsor organizations have been working to move away from such cramped conditions.