The competitive job market has employers who offer all kinds of perks to attract staff. But for some local businesses, providing a place to stay has always been an advantage.
From homes to apartments to dorms, many seasonal workers coming to Southwest Florida have free or affordable housing without having to look for it.
“If I didn’t have housing available, I wouldn’t be able to hire staff and I wouldn’t be able to participate in programs,” says Lisa Andrews, Outreach and Education Coordinator at Big Cypress National Preserve. Part of the National Park Service, Big Cypress hires rangers and other temporary workers who typically move between parks every six months. These seasonal employees provide visitor services, education programs for school groups, fire team services, and activities such as marsh walks.
Their housing, however, is not paid for by the federal government. The Alliance for Florida’s National Parks, a group of friends, bear much of the cost of operating Big Cypress housing. Seasonal workers pay low rent depending on the type of accommodation.
Ms Andrews uses a four-bedroom dormitory, a two-bedroom house, four functional apartments in a former hotel on the property as well as camper vans for volunteers with their own vehicles.
Big Cypress rangers typically stay from October through March before heading to parks to the west or north that have been closed for the winter.
They don’t need a lot of space.
“If you’re a seasonal, you’re pretty much a youngster and anything you own can fit in the back of your car so you can travel across the country working in these amazing places like Yellowstone for the summer. and Big Cypress for winter, “says Andrews.” It’s a fabulous experience to see and experience in places most people don’t.
“Without housing,” she says, “they couldn’t do this. This is a low paying position. They couldn’t come to a place like Naples.
Big Cypress is the sixth National Park Service assignment for Wisconsin native Joseph Carlson, a park ranger for education and awareness.
He has worked at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and the Grand Canyon.
“I don’t think I would work for the parks department if housing wasn’t available,” he says. “I took a job outside of the parks department last year in Salt Lake City and finding a home was a nightmare.”
He adds that the people who work for the parks department do it for the experience and not for the money, so having a heavily subsidized rent helps make ends meet.
Mr Carlson never quite knows what his accommodation will look like, but says the Big Cypress house is one of the best, with a screened porch and a view of the waterfront canal.
The biggest challenge with seasonal housing, he says, is whether all the roommates will get along, even though it has so far only had good experiences.
He brings a tote bag of kitchen utensils since he loves to cook, and visits thrift stores to find items to personalize each temporary home. He is always delighted when the accommodation includes a washer and dryer.
His goal is to work seasonally for the next three to four years, to get paid to travel the country, as he finalizes his career plans.
“I say I shop around to find out what park I want to work in and what job I want to do. “
The Rookery Bay Estuary National Research Reserve also offers waterfront accommodations. This month, it opened a new 10,000-island field research station with a three-bedroom bunkhouse and docks on Goodland Bay on Marco Island for interns and scientists.
“The location gives them quick access to where they can work,” says Keith Laakkonen, program administrator for the 110,000-acre reserve.
Sea turtle trainees spend four to six months surveying nests on the islands in the reserve. Visiting researchers who study dolphins, manatees, sharks, sea grasses, water quality, and other issues typically spend about a week in the reserve.
Student interns stay free, and visiting scientists from around the world pay $ 20 to $ 40 a night.
“Internships are not the best paying jobs,” says Laakkonen. “It gives them an option where they get housing and an amazing experience that benefits them. “
The new 1,500 square foot energy-efficient dormitory, built above FEMA floodplain standards, has hurricane-proof glass, back-up generator, elevator accessible by the ADA and a screened terrace to enjoy the view of the water.
“It’s fantastic,” enthuses Mr. Laakkonen.
This building replaced the one that had been the original headquarters of Rookery Bay. The reserve also operates a bunkhouse at the end of Shell Island Road.
“We have two bunkhouses because Collier County is the size of Delaware and Rookery Bay manages 40% of its coastline,” Mr. Laakkonen said. “We have a lot of work and a lot of partners.
The hospitality industry is one of the region’s largest employers, and hotels and attractions compete to recruit seasonal workers.
Naples Grande Beach Resort helps coordinate accommodations for cooks, waiters, housekeepers, and beach attendants prior to their arrival in town, especially for those coming from outside the United States.
“Hourly employees are very important to the overall success of the hospitality industry,” says Melinda Hutchins, Director of Sales and Marketing. “In today’s competitive job market, with limited residential availability and rental prices, it is important that we proactively devote the time and effort to the pre-planning necessary for a smooth transition.
The hotel facilitates the rental of apartments, furnishings and utilities and absorbs the upfront costs. He expects to help 80 employees this season, although they have helped over 130 a year in the past.
Two local theaters also rely on Equity actors and professional staff who come to town for a few weeks or months at a time.
Gulfshore Playhouse rents six two-bedroom apartments and three three-bedroom apartments because union contracts state that the theater must provide accommodation that includes a full kitchen. The location should also be some distance from the rehearsal and performance space, which is why they often also hire cars for actors and stage managers.
“It’s quite expensive,” says Joel Markus, chief operating officer and general manager, “but it’s common for theaters across America to have housing. “
Gulfshore Playhouse also offers free accommodation for interns, to help them offset their salary.
Guest artists also appreciate the accommodation.
Grammy and Emmy winner John McDaniel best known for his work on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” worked with Gulfshore Playhouse for the third time this fall.
“The apartments they have booked are really clean and nice,” says McDaniel, who travels a lot for work. “You don’t always know what you will get when you leave your house to go to work in music or the theater. “
TheatreZone rents apartments and reserves hotel rooms but also invites its patrons to donate accommodation in their guest rooms or guesthouses.
“I appreciate so much that we have such a wonderful and friendly environment for live theater because of the ability that sharing accommodation makes them feel like family,” said Karlene Putnam, a host at TheatreZone. “Those who have used what I have available have been very kind and always grateful for the accommodation.”
Mark Danni, founding artistic director of TheatreZone, says the actors and designers come from theatrical homes of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
“For these qualified people to work at TheatreZone,” he says, “we have to be able to provide housing. “
Larry Alexander played at TheatreZone for 15 years and still stays in the guest house. “I love the interaction with the owners and the accommodation is essential, financially, for TheatreZone,” he says.
Housing for health
Another major industry in the city is medical services.
At one time, NCH owned apartment buildings for temporary staff. They’ve decided to pull out of the homeowner’s market, according to General Counsel Matt Heinle, but are offering a stipend to medical residents and fellows. They also serve as a resource for connecting seasonal staff with short-term rentals, Airbnb sites, and even accommodation with other NCH employees.
The hospital is planning workforce housing initiatives and incentives, and is exploring affordable housing options closer to NCH campuses.
“It’s very evident to us that housing pressure affects not only our employees, but the entire community,” says Matt Holliday, director of advocacy and government relations. “We’re starting to look at what other healthcare systems have done to help their employees. “??