Ocean City Today
https://oceancitytoday.villagesoup.com/p/1678248

City Council vows to tackle seasonal housing problems

By Katie Tabeling | Aug 10, 2017

(Aug. 11, 2017) After more than a dozen J-1 visa students and their sponsor paid the City Council a visit during Monday’s session, city officials are calling for a review of the resort’s housing regulations.

“It’s [poor housing conditions] an issue that needs to be addressed not just by the city, but as the business owners and property owners. They have to work with us to make sure conditions of the accommodations meet the test of the code,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “I would suggest that we work on this after the season and get a group of business owners and landlords to work and resolve the issues.”

Apartments crammed with J-1 visa students or seasonal workers is not a new problem in Ocean City. Last year, the council decided to stand firm on a maximum occupancy rate of 40 square feet per person.

Affordable and safe housing is always in short supply, as there are about 4,100 J-1 visa students in Ocean City this summer and most seasonal rentals are involved in the more lucrative weekly vacation market.

Mug and Mallet owner Shannon Tippett put the shortage at about 100 beds when she addressed the mayor and City Council during Monday’s public comment period.

Backed by an entourage of her employees who sat behind her, Tippet said, “I’ve talked to my Serbian employees, and they’re overcrowded and living in terrible accommodations as well. They’ve told me the apartment they’re in on Fourth Street has a hole in their ceiling. Every time it rains it floods water, and their landlord is completely non-responsive until it’s collecting the rent check.”

“Students from the Czech Republic on Ninth Street were told that only four people live here, not the six that paid, if the city came by. Her mattress was taken from her…. And only given back after I said if he didn’t bring it back, I’d call the city on him myself.”

Tippett added that if it were American students going overseas to work, this “broken system” would not stand.

“I am told by the city they’re planning a major crackdown. These students deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and we owe it to them to do our best. This is unacceptable,” she said.

Mayor Rick Meehan, other councilmembers and city staff, were either unaware of or could not confirm a crackdown on code violations, but City Manager Doug Miller spoke to Serbian students after the session. Those complaints were forwarded to inspection staff Tuesday morning.

“We obviously have to address the issue of substandard housing for some of our summer workforce,” Miller wrote in an email on Tuesday afternoon. “The Mayor made some suggestions… and we will act upon those suggestions.”

Also considered was Councilman Wayne Hartman’s suggestions to include the issue in strategic planning discussions and invent incentives for developers to build employee housing.

“This is a major problem, and we need to discuss other ways to incentivize housing, like eliminating impact fees to encourage them,” Hartman said.

Some businesses do provide employee housing in Ocean City, including Trimper’s Rides and Amusements, which has a series of apartments built above the indoor amusements. Brooks Trimper said the units, which used to be weekly rentals, can house between two to six students, and include a kitchen, bathroom and living area.

“It’s more valuable to us as employee housing because we have on site reliable employees. And it’s more affordable for them,” Trimper said. “It’s critical, because we wouldn’t be able to hire the J-1s that we do without it.”

Even at Trimper’s Rides and Amusements, there’s a housing shortage. Out of the 150 foreign students who work there, there is room for only 80 students to live in the apartments upstairs.

“I want them housed in reasonable and affordable places,” Trimper said. “Far and beyond working for us, they come here to embrace American culture, and housing is the final problem where it’s at and space is a premium on this island. It’s a complicated issue, but we want to make sure they’re in safe environments and not ripped off.”

 

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