About two months ago, Scott Vogel moved out of the house he owns next to his restaurant in downtown Ogunquit and offered it for rent to four of his employees. For Vogel, it was the only way to keep valuable staff when faced with the perfect storm of an overheated labor market and crippling shortage of affordable housing in a tourism epicenter.
There used to be an ample supply of housing units seasonal employees could rent for the summer, but they’ve all been renovated and turned into weekly rentals, said Vogel, who owns the Front Porch and Crew in Ogunquit.
“It is just crazy. Everyone is renting houses out by the week to make money,” he said. “Owning two restaurants here, on the kitchen side of things you can’t afford to lose anyone. There is very limited housing for employees.”
But Vogel won’t be renting out his Ogunquit home to workers forever. He bought a four-bedroom house in Wells to rent rooms to employees, so even he could convert the Ogunquit place into a short-term rental.
Finding an affordable place to stay has long been a struggle for legions of seasonal workers that make Maine’s tourism hotspots hum. The rise of owner-operated, short-term rentals and an extremely expensive housing market have made the problem worse.
Now employers such as Vogel are taking it on themselves to put a roof over workers’ heads. From Maine’s rocky coast to its rural mountains, businesses are converting hotels, buying homes and building dormitories for the staff needed to serve the annual tourist hordes.
A short drive up the coast in Wells, Maine Diner owner Jim MacNeill eyes the purchase of a motel, in part to offer housing for foreign workers on visas, locals or anyone he can hire. “I can’t recruit from anyone who isn’t within a short commute, because they don’t have anywhere to live,” MacNeill said.
Service at the Maine Diner is now limited to breakfast and lunch six days a week and takeout dinner from a food cart a few nights a week. MacNeill needs at least six more line cooks to expand his hours.
“Housing has become such an issue that we have limited the ability to find help,” he said. “I …….