To the Editor:
We are pleased to see the town of Bar Harbor working to manage the proliferation of vacation rentals. However, there seems to be another trend in town that is getting much less attention: the number of houses being bought by employers and used for seasonal worker housing.
We understand that the shortage of workforce housing is a huge issue, for seasonal workers as well as year-round ones. Just a couple of years ago, the town created categories and standards for Employee Living Quarters and Shared Accommodations to enable employers to develop group housing for seasonal employees.
To date, there have not been any ELQs or SAs created and permitted by the town, according to the code enforcement officer. Meanwhile, more and more houses are being purchased for seasonal employee housing in downtown neighborhoods.
Town staff were gracious and responsive to our requests for information about seasonal employee housing; however, what we learned was disquieting. The town’s data is several years old and based on a voluntary survey. The numbers are confusing: 88 buildings, 44 single family homes and 219 apartments. While future ELQs and SAs are required to be registered and inspected, existing seasonal employee housing is not.
The recent fire at a seasonal employee house on School Street (and one several years ago on Roberts Square) brings our concerns to the forefront. Thankfully nobody was hurt in this recent fire. But how many people live there? In what conditions?
Seasonal employee housing should be subject to the same registration, fire and safety inspections required of vacation rentals. We think it’s beyond time that the town addressed this issue. Only then can the town gather reliable data and work to understand the public safety and other consequences of having more of these houses in our residential neighborhoods.
It’s time to develop creative solutions to this perennial problem.
Sharon Knopp and Enoch Albert
Mary and Phil Galperin