New Woodstock program promises to pay landlords to rent to local workers

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-14-2024 5:00 PM

WOODSTOCK — A new program will provide financial incentives for Woodstock property owners to lease rentals to people who work in the area.

Called “Lease to Locals,” the one-year pilot program, funded by $60,000 from Woodstock’s 1% local option tax, will give money to property owners who rent — at reduced rates — to people who work locally for at least five months a year.

“We’re hoping that we can use that to incentivize several people to put their houses into long-term rental,” said Jill Davies, a member of the Woodstock Economic Development Commission’s Housing Working Group. If the program is successful, the commission will consider renewing it for another year.

The program is being administered through a company called Placemate, a Truckee, Calif.-based business that operates similar employee housing programs in other tourism-heavy towns such as Provincetown, Mass., and South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Landlords and tenants can create profiles on Placemate’s Woodstock program web page, where they will be matched based on their needs and what types of housing property owners can offer.

Depending on how many people they rent to and what type of housing it is, property owners could earn up to $9,000 per year for participating in Lease to Locals.

For example, a property owner who rents a studio for $1,000 per month to a year-round employee would receive $3,000 per tenant; if they rented that same space to a seasonal employee, they would receive $1,500 per tenant. The incentive applies to single rooms, studios and houses with up to four units. Multi-family homes with more than four units, mobile homes, hotels and motels are not eligible for the program, according to Placemate.

“My hopes are that people who are not really using their house will consider putting it into this program,” Davies said.

Davies also is hoping that Lease to Locals will encourage property owners to convert short-term rentals into long-term options for workers. Woodstock recently passed an ordinance that caps the number of short-term rentals in both the town and the village.

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In her role on the Housing Working Group, Davies frequently hears from people who are struggling to find places to live.

“Teachers can’t find anywhere to live,” Davies said. “We’ve had firefighters and police asking us for help. It’s everybody.”

Prospective tenants must work for a minimum of 25 hours per week “at a business, organization, or public or private entity located in the Qualified Area (Woodstock, Barnard, Bridgewater, Pomfret, Reading, or Hartland),” according to a description of the program on Placemate.

Tenants can either be current Woodstock residents or someone who wants to move to town to be closer to work, Davies said.

“We’re looking for people who are working in the community,” she said.

Woodstock’s service industry, including restaurants, has struggled to recruit and retain employees due to housing challenges.

In addition to managing her business, Sam DiNatale, a longtime resident who owns Mon Vert Cafe in downtown Woodstock, spends quite a bit of time keeping an eye out for rental properties for her employees.

During busy times, like the summer, DiNatale has between 20 and 22 full-time employees; during quieter months she has around 15 employees. Over the summer, DiNatale must also find housing for employees who work at the cafe as part of the J-1 visa program, where people who live abroad work in the United States temporarily.

“Within a year, there’s a handful of employees at any given time that need housing or are trying to find housing,” she said.

To help address the challenge, she started renting a house for three of her full-time employees to live in; a portion of the rent comes out of their paychecks.

“I was going to lose three full-time employees because they couldn’t find housing,” DiNatale said. “I’m paying also more in rent than what they could afford so they get cheaper housing and I get to retain valuable employees.”

Another employee is renting a room in DiNatale’s mother’s home.

DiNatale supports the Lease to Locals program.

“I think, if anything, it would keep people living and working in the area more than anything else,” DiNatale said.

Billings Farm and Museum, a nonprofit organization, has not had anyone turn down a job due to housing challenges, but there are employees who have a longer commute and would like to live closer, said Kim Carboneau, Billings’ director of human resources.

“Maybe this lease program will be effective because there are so few houses to buy that are affordable around here,” Carboneau said.

For more information, visit place mate.com/woodstock.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauche lli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.