The owner of the craft brewery has to find the right people – and often has to help them find affordable housing. “Someone actually lived in a bunkie, we built a bunkie,” Parsons said. “We also considered purchasing housing for our staff. ”
A staff member lived in the small building for about five months. This year, the solution for Parsons was to co-sign a lease on a house for three employees.
Parsons Brewing Company is not alone in its quest for staff housing. Other small business owners now regularly organize or offer housing to try and recruit summer staff who would otherwise be left out of the hot Prince Edward County housing market.
The County – located east of Toronto and south of Belleville, Ontario. – has become a popular tourist destination in recent years, causing real estate prices to skyrocket. Migration to the county, fueled by a pandemic, from the Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa and Montreal has pushed house prices even higher.
Over the past year, house prices in Prince Edward County have increased 49% and the average rent has increased 38%, according to the annual report of the Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Corporation (PECAHC).
At the end of March, the average home purchase price in the county was $ 821,000. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $ 1,464 per month. And there are bidding wars, even for rentals: In one case, a one-bedroom unit was listed for $ 1,415 and was ultimately leased for $ 1,725.
Rural housing market overtakes Toronto
The county’s affordable housing corporation was formed in 2018 to deal with a crisis that the company’s chief executive considers unprecedented.
“It keeps me awake at night,” CEO Charles Dowdall told CBC News.
“Our rent and real estate price increases have overtaken Toronto and like-minded tourist communities like the Kawarthas and Muskoka. “
Two projects are under development to create 56 affordable housing units in the county over the next two years. PECAHC is also exploring other potential solutions to attempt to develop an additional 50 to 100 affordable housing units over the next two to three years.
Meanwhile, the lack of affordable housing means Parsons is seeing skilled workers move on to other opportunities, including a recent job candidate from Toronto with brewery management experience.
“They looked for housing for about two and a half months and it just wasn’t a possibility for them to rent something in the county,” Parsons told CBC News. “So they chose to move to Ottawa instead. ”
Parsons has six full-time employees, and for a normal summer he must hire nearly 30 more workers to handle the growing number of tourists who visit the county from the May long weekend to Labor Day each year.
Job seekers, employers stuck in limbo
The pandemic further complicates matters.
“There is a lot of hesitation just because the contracts that we are able to offer right now all have this caveat:” Look, if we shut down, we can’t support 35 full-time employees at all times. season long, ”Parsons said.
Seasonal hiring is a guessing game in the county’s hospitality and service industries right now, as it’s unclear when businesses will be allowed to open and how COVID-19 restrictions will dictate capacity when they do. will, according to Donna Harrison, local employment services manager with Career Advantage.
WATCH | Samantha Parsons discusses the need for affordable housing:
“Giving a start date is just not feasible at the moment,” she said. “I think the most [employers] I don’t want to offer a job that they can’t follow up on. ”
Harrison says the start-up and shutdown nature of the service industry throughout the pandemic has also led to a drop in the number of people turning to Career Edge for help finding work.
“If all of a sudden things open up… it’s going to be tough,” she said. “Everyone will probably be looking for people at the same time and there is already a shortage. “
Restaurant owner Sarah Zomer has already lost staff due to lower paying but constant jobs in grocery stores and manufacturing due to the pandemic.
“It’s really tough right now,” she said. “It’s not really a good offer [to say] “We may or may not be open, and we would love to have you, but we don’t know when and we don’t know how many hours. “”
Housing workers were also a barrier.
In the three years since she opened Flame and Smith with her husband, six or seven members of staff have stayed in the couple’s shed, which is set up as a studio, as they tried to find alternative accommodation.
BC Ski Town supervises 6,600 beds of affordable housing
Dowdall looked to other tourism communities from British Columbia to Nova Scotia struggling with affordable housing to avoid reinventing the wheel.
“Whistler, is the one that really catches my eye,” he said.
The BC Ski Resort has been investing in affordable housing for almost 30 years. Now, the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) oversees 6,600 affordable housing beds in over 2,100 units for local employees.
This deep well of affordable housing means Whistler is able to house nearly 80 percent of its workforce within its boundaries.
“One of the biggest benefits for people accessing housing is simply this stability and security,” said Marla Zucht, CEO of WHA. “Knowing then that they can continue to live in the community where they work, take root, maybe start a family. “
In the short term, Dowdall takes inspiration from Whistler when it comes to projects that can be completed quickly.
“For their seasonal workers, they are very committed to the development of modular housing and Quonset,” said Dowdell.
Potential short-term solution for Quonset housing
Prefabricated dome-shaped steel structures can be used for communal living with private rooms.
Dowdall is talking to a handful of local landowners about building quonset housing on the excess land they have donated to create affordable housing on the go.
“We need to fix this problem now,” Dowdall said. “This type of housing could be facilitated fairly quickly in three to four months [for] fabrication. »
Parsons and Zomer are still waiting to see what a second summer of pandemic restrictions might look like before finalizing their staffing requirements.
Last summer, both companies had to adjust their service levels due to staff shortages.
“We will always be able to open,” Zomer said. “The question is, how many days a week will we be open and what hours will we be able to open? “