Businesses reaching out to community to find housing for J1 workers

 

WORCESTER COUNTY, Md. – Some coastal businesses remain shuttered as the off-season continues. Before long they’ll be back open, and many of them rely on J1 workers.

“In Ocean City, at the Beach Club, 80% of our staff was J1 students last year,” said co-founder of Matt Ortt Companies Ralph DeAngelus.

But, finding housing for those workers is proving to be difficult.

“The housing situation in Ocean City has become dire. Everybody’s taking their condos and their townhouses and remodeling them to turn them into Airbnb, because the money is better than it is renting out to a J1 student,” said DeAngelus. “I get it. Why not make more money? But, that has just really destroyed the housing market for the J1 students.”

Businesses tell 47 ABC it’s now crunch time, as they only have a few weeks left to find housing for the students. Manager of Coastal Salt restaurant Chelsey Chmelik says not having enough housing means not having enough workers. That could spell big trouble for some businesses.

“Some businesses are closing for a part of their day or for multiple days throughout the week because they don’t have the staff and the help that it takes to run a successful business in this town,” she said. “It’s a little disheartening because it puts a lot of stress on everybody,” said Chmelik.

But DeAngelus isn’t taking this housing shortage lying down. He’s collaborating with Ocean Pines officials to get residents to host J1 workers.

“We thought maybe we can get together with them and have them as host families. Then in turn, the J1 student would work at one of the Ocean Pines facilities, helping us fill our labor shortage,” said DeAngelus.

That’s where Chmelik comes in. She’s working as a middle man to connect potential host families with organizations that help J1 workers find accommodations. “They’re great kids. They’re willing to work in multiple departments, they work really really hard, and I think in the first year of COVID-19 the town was able to see how much of an impact J1 students had when we didn’t have any of them here,” said Chmelik.

Chmelik says the J1 workers are willing to pay between $2,200 and $2,500 in rent, over 16 weeks. She adds that the J1 workers are fully vaccinated, and will be tested for COVID-19 before they leave their home countries, and after they arrive in the United States. Residents can also house more than on J1 worker at a time. “The students come here alone. So, if they can make a couple friends on the way, and if you have the room to house them, it’s a beautiful situation,” said Chmelik.

While Chmelik says J1 workers are required to pay rent on time per their contract, residents can also choose to house them for free. She says ultimately, the experience of hosting a J1 worker could be priceless. “I think honestly, the experience and the cultural value that you get from it is going to be a little bit more than just putting some extra money in your pocket,” said Chmelik.

If you’d like to host a J1 worker, you don’t have to live in Ocean Pines to get involved. DeAngelus says they’re also looking into working with host families in Ocean City, West Ocean City, and Berlin.

DeAngelus says that’s because they want to make sure as many businesses are possible for the summer of 2022. “I don’t know if we’d be able to open seven days a week without the J1 program. We might have to close in the daytime during the week, and who wants to do that when you only have 16 weeks to make your money? This is a crucial thing to small businesses,” said DeAngelus.

The deadline to find housing for J1 workers is January 15th. If you’d like to host J1 workers, you can reach out to Chmelik by emailing her at Chelsey@MattOrttCompanies.com.

Categories: Business, Local News, Maryland