James City County has been working on the increased need for workforce housing for years, but the lack of affordable housing could impact how local employers are able to recruit candidates.
The county started a workforce housing task force that was aimed at analyzing and addressing the growing need for workforce housing in the area. The task force created a survey which studied the area’s housing needs and found that affordable housing is key for creating a diverse and economically stable community.
Which also means it is needed in order to recruit employees to the area.
“I definitely think this is an expensive area to live in,” said Tim Baker, senior director of Human Resources for Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools. “And that makes it more challenging to recruit people.”
The average home price in 2018 in the county was $316,500 which means a family would need an income of $79,000 or more to buy a home in the area, according to James City County’s study
The study showed the incomes of many employees with James City County are insufficient to afford those home prices.
Baker said while staff in general are more difficult to recruit to WJCC partially because of housing challenges, support staff is even harder. For employees such as bus drivers, there are times when they aren’t working eight hours a day so their overall income and gross pay for the year might not stretch as far as it would in a different community.
“So for us, we’re competing against other industries and employers that can keep them employed 40 hours or more a week, but we’re only working the days students need to be transferred,” he said. “So the hourly rate might be okay, but their volume and total gross pay is harder to compete with. So to find someone local, you have to entice them in other ways such as benefits.”
Rebecca Vinroot, the county’s director of social services, said the goal is to have people both live and work in the community, as opposed to having to commute. This can be a difficult goal for the county to achieve because it doesn’t build the homes or set the prices.
“So really you need more housing that is available in that price point that people can afford, so that’s a challenge [because] as a county, there’s only so much we can do,” she said. “So we have to be supportive to entities that want to help with that supply issue…we may have the demand of employees who want [housing] but there has to be the supply side.”
Vinroot said the county got to the point of needing more workforce housing because while the demand for affordable housing has grown over the years, the supply has not. The taskforce was formed in response to the community need and some of its findings have highlighted why affordable housing is important to creating a diverse and sustainable workforce that lives in the area.
The county has started multiple workforce housing efforts in recent years, many of which include home rehabilitation. For example, the county received a $1 million Community Development Block grant that allows them to do a two-year Scattered Site Housing Rehabilitation project that will benefit more than two dozen people. This is just one of the various rehabilitation projects the county has started as a way to improve current housing options for buyers.
In the meantime, employers such as the school district are still trying to find a way to recruit staff to an area with limited affordable housing options.
“For us, especially people who are familiar with this area, they kind of know where they want to live and where they can afford to live and have to take that into account,” Baker said. “During recruitment it doesn’t come up much, most people are just looking for a job….It’s more of anecdotal, if we can pay our employees more, then we can entice them or [they can] afford to live here.”
Baker said the district has been trying to create salary increases for some employees, but it has to be approved by both the city of Williamsburg and the county. District officials in the winter had proposed some salary increases but the coronavirus pandemic has put those on the back burner.
Vinroot said the county plans to find new ways not only to provide more affordable housing but to improve the housing already available. There are currently rehabilitation projects in place that will improve houses and make them more profitable for owners when sold.
“Certainly, we want our employees to live close to work, most people want to do that, and I think for those who felt like it was something they wanted…we wanted to offer that to them,” Vinroot said.
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