NEW LONDON – The lack of affordable housing – or any housing at all – is having a huge impact on the recruitment and retention of workers, according to employers in the area.
From New London Hospital and Colby-Sawyer College trying to hire healthcare workers and professors, or small restaurants in New London’s business district looking for part-time student help, the costs Housing and availability often ward off potential hires, panelists said last week at a workforce housing forum.
Susan Stuebner, president of Colby-Sawyer College, which hosted the forum, gave an example where the college offered a professorship to a candidate chosen from among several applicants.
“She took the job and started looking for accommodation,” Stuebner said. “Two weeks later, she retired (from work.)”
Entry-level positions are difficult to fill if the potential employee has to drive more than 10 to 15 minutes to get to work, Stuebner said.
“In this (housing) market, we see a lot of people driving 30 to 50 minutes, which is not ideal,” she added.
Jim Culhane, president and CEO of the Lake Sunapee Region Visiting Nurses Association and Hospice, which serves 32 cities, said they can’t serve everyone they want because potential employees, at the bottom of income scale, are unwilling to drive 30 minutes or more and are unable to find closer accommodation.
Laurie Schive, who owns Blue Loon Bakery with her husband, Mike, draws from a different pool of candidates but faces the same dilemma.
Schive said they have 25 employees, six of them full-time, and employ a lot of high school and college students.
“They say they would like to live in New London. It’s a great place to live,” Schive said of his full-time employees. “But they all said they had searched and found no accommodation.
“The reality is that employees can’t find anything to rent, let alone own,” Schive said.
Therefore, the bakery tries to recruit people with the necessary skills and a spouse, with a job, who already live in the area.
“That pool of potential employees is shrinking more and more,” Schive said.
Forum moderator Tom Forguere, a certified planner who has consulted on private and public developments, highlighted the cost of housing in New London. Forguere said the median income in New London is $105,000 and under state law affordable homes at that income are defined at $359,000, the maximum and affordable rental units are $359,000. $1,430 for two bedrooms with utilities. But in New London, the average house price is $579,000 and rentals, if they can be found, are much higher than the affordable figure.
Rich Stockwell, owner of the Millstone restaurant, said he heard a similar complaint from students who work at his establishment during the school year and would like to stay over the summer but cannot find accommodation.
When the topic moved on to solutions, panelists said the region needs a range of housing that meets the demand of different income levels and age groups.
“We certainly don’t have that option in New London,” Culhane said. “Without that continuum, it’s hard to imagine how we attract young people who want to come and raise families here.
Tom Manion, president and chief executive of New London Hospital, agrees, saying recruiting young nurses is difficult because of housing.
“Today they come, they watch and they go,” Manion said. “So a continuum of a mix is the right answer.”
Suggestions on how to achieve the goal of more housing included big investments and looked beyond the borders of New London, as this is a regional, if not statewide, issue. . Federal and state funds would be needed to build enough housing for the area, panelists agreed.
“It’s easy to envision a more regional approach with multiple cities working together to establish rural planning,” Culhane said. “I think the commitment and investment in a regional approach to addressing capacity needs to be considered.”
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at email@example.com.