The prospect of dozens of foreign workers having to be put up in local hotels in May and June because of a lack of available housing is disturbing. However, after looking further into it, those folks were the lucky ones apparently.
There is no easy answer to the ongoing seasonal housing shortage in Ocean City. It’s a reflection of the times when many property owners reinvested in their buildings to the point they want to recoup weekly tourism packages for rent. In some cases, former housing options were simply torn down for parking lots. The city is trying to do what it can as far as enforcing existing laws on overcrowding and other infractions, but the fact remains in many cases it’s the tenants that are jamming themselves into these small places because they have nowhere else to go.
It was long thought it was the greedy landlords who were bringing in eight individuals to live in a two-bedroom rental so they could maximize profits. While there’s surely still some of that going around, the situation this summer seems to be foreign workers here to work and then travel are simply staying with each other because they have no other housing options.
This week’s story on the situation focused largely on the fortunate ones who are affiliated with the United Work and Travel Program. Although they have been put through a tough time, they were lucky because this sponsoring agency was willing to spend “an unbelievable amount of money” in the words of Annemarie Conestabile, program director, to put the workers up in hotel rooms while the housing situation was sorted through. Others were not so fortunate and went back home without the money they spend to reserve housing ahead of time as well as sans the experience of a summer here.
It’s the other workers who are long gone who deserve greater sympathy. They missed out on a lifetime experience they will never forget. Their situation was unable to be rectified and it appears they either returned home to their native country or went elsewhere domestically. At this point, it’s unknown how many ended up giving up and going back.
Emily, a worker from Romania put it well, saying, “Some of those companies didn’t do anything for those kids. They just took their money and they were on their own. We were the lucky ones.”
In the end, Conestabile is right with her conclusion as far as the housing crisis. The problem is how to fix it. There is no simple answer.
“The whole program is at risk if this isn’t remedied,” she said. “If these international students aren’t here, employers suffer and so does Ocean City. They do so much for our city, and we have to do more to protect them while they are here.”
In an interesting interview this week, Perdue Farms Inc. Chairman Jim Perdue made some pointed comments about the Chesapeake Bay that will surely rankle some environmentalists. However, it’s difficult to argue with the facts he maintained when it came down to talking about the Eastern Shore’s geographical impact on the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
“… please understand, whatever happens on the Eastern Shore is not going to fix the Chesapeake Bay. It isn’t going to happen because only 8% of the water that goes in the Chesapeake Bay comes from the four rivers here on the shore. Eighty-five percent of the water comes from the three biggest rivers: the Susquehanna, the Potomac, and the James River. So, if there is stuff coming into the bay, those have to be dealt with and they aren’t being dealt with,” he said. “Everyone thinks that if you do something here it will fix the bay and it won’t. Truthfully, the problem with the bay is that you have no filter in it anymore: there are no oysters in the bay and that’s the big effort to get more oysters back in the bay. … So, whether it’s the coastal bays or the Chesapeake Bay, you’ve got to have the natural filter back in there.”
Worcester County did the right thing this week when it rejected an outlandish request from a solar developer for a 80-percent tax abatement.
The company will now most likely not move forward with intentions to build solar farms on two parcels in the county — one in Berlin off Libertytown Road and the other in Snow Hill on Public Landing Road. It will be a shame if the projects are scrapped altogether, but the County Commissioners would have been setting a dangerous precedent if they had approved the requested 80-percent tax abatement.
The first year abatement would have amounted to more than $520,000 in lost revenue but when considered over the long term, such as 30 years, it amounts to more than $8.4 million. Although those numbers are daunting and convincing enough as is, the biggest issue and reason to reject the request was the flood of similar queries that would have come down the pike.