The prospect of a large seasonal housing facility being built in downtown Ocean City is exciting and a prime example of private enterprise stepping in to fill a significant need.
Applicant Shannon Tippett, whose family owns the parcel at the corner of Wicomico Street and Baltimore Avenue, hopes to build a 3,200-square-foot restaurant and bar on the ground level with three floors of summer worker housing and a top floor apartment for a property manager. The housing component could host as many as 75 seasonal workers. The majority of the tenants will likely be J-1 summer work and travel students. That, of course, assumes the Trump administration does not act hastily and cut the program over generalized immigration concerns.
Although it’s been a problem for more than a decade, the dearth of affordable summer rental housing in Ocean City has reached a crisis. There simply are not enough units to accommodate the amount of workers needed to meet the summer demand. Therefore, more and more workers are living outside the town in West Ocean City and further west, raising a multitude of safety concerns with bicyclists and pedestrians scurrying to work across the bridge.
Even with the current housing available in the area, there are horror stories of landlords taking advantage of the seasonal workers with outrageous rents and overcrowding. It happens every summer to various extremes. It needs to stop but there’s no way to track all of these incidents. We just know it’s happening often and the student workers often become victims in a foreign place.
A foreign student wrote us to support the project proposed this week. He said from his experience 90 percent of his colleagues working here away from home have dealt with the consequences of inadequate housing structures and abusive landlords.
It has long been considered government’s responsibility to address this huge seasonal housing void. It’s just not practical and will not happen. Government can’t fix this private sector issue.
This is a prime example of private business owners saying enough is enough. The family is going to put a lot of money into a major investment in Ocean City, its own business and its employees. It will surely be a major improvement over the current landscape in the area and should from an aesthetic standpoint enhance the downtown.
The location is perfect because it’s near public transportation and close to the Boardwalk, where many of these visa holders work. Many of them will be able to walk to their work and that’s a win-win from a congestion and safety standpoint.
We hope this project continues to advance through the planning pipeline and is able to put a dent in the seasonal housing deficit experienced in Ocean City for many years. If it’s successful once built, it could serve as a precedent for more projects like it in the future.