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When your boss is also your landlord: Employers are offering rentals to their workers

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Making sure that employees can find housing is top of mind for many business owners. And as some housing markets get squeezed, employers have started offering rentals to their workers. But as Vermont Public's Carly Berlin reports, things can get complicated when your boss is also your landlord.

CARLY BERLIN, BYLINE: The old rectory in the small town of Troy, Vt., definitely has its quirks.

JORDAN ANTONUCCI: It has a beautiful, I would say, brown-puke-mixed-with-gold colored carpet. And it's covering over, like, solid wood cherry, so that will be removed.

BERLIN: Jordan Antonucci is renovating the six-bedroom church house, turning it into employee rentals. He and his wife also own a group of Japanese restaurants at ski resorts. And they have a hard time finding help.

ANTONUCCI: Being able to offer housing it's - we've had so many more applicants than we've ever had this year. It's been pretty amazing.

BERLIN: Employers providing housing is not exactly a new thing. There were once whole company towns around mines and mills. And now this model is making something of a comeback. Driving the trend is a severe housing shortage.

MEGAN SULLIVAN: This is a struggle for every industry, every business, for employees at all income levels.

BERLIN: Megan Sullivan is with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. She says hospitals and ski resorts were some of the first to get into the housing game here. Sullivan says some businesses now see offering rentals as a new kind of business expense.

SULLIVAN: Because it means that they're going to have employees who are available to come to work, who don't have to drive an hour and worry about their transportation costs, worry about now I need two extra hours of childcare.

BERLIN: But it can also lead to a messy dynamic, says Daniel Shannon.

DANIEL SHANNON: I could make a mistake at work and now, instead of just being out of a job, I'm out of a job and a place to live.

BERLIN: Shannon used to work as a snowmaker and lift operator at a ski resort here and lived in employee housing. When maintenance issues came up, he felt like the company didn't take them seriously enough.

SHANNON: The actual concept of having your living tied to your job doesn't really feel quite right.

BERLIN: Shannon ultimately left the job and the state. When he moved to Utah to work at a ski resort there, he decided to go live on his own.

SHANNON: And that was part of the things I told myself when I moved out here was, I'm not going back to employee housing.

BERLIN: There are some big trade-offs. In Vermont, he could walk to work and rent was pretty cheap - $425 a month. Now he pays twice as much and has to drive half an hour to his job. Back at the old rectory-turned-staff-housing, Antonucci is figuring out how to handle his new role as both boss and landlord. He's still grappling with what to do if he terminates an employee who also rents from him. But mostly, he's optimistic about this new experiment.

ANTONUCCI: In this area, you know, people they can only work as much as there is housing available. So we're hoping to fight back against that.

BERLIN: And he's hoping other businesses might follow his lead.

For NPR News, I'm Carly Berlin in Troy, Vt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carly Berlin
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