A little separation and a good work culture can make all the difference.
Housing is a complex challenge, and everyone’s story is different. In this blog series, Vital Communities Housing and Transportation team member Ellen Hender offers close-up views of how our neighbors are affected by current Upper Valley housing realities.
The first thing Ashley shares is that she loves her current living situation. That’s not to say it’s perfect or will always be the right fit, but it is for now. Ashley and her family, including her husband and two young kids, live in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom single-family dwelling provided by her employer, a farm. She notes that they could easily be spending $1,500-$2,000 a month for housing like this, but instead, she sees a benefit for both her and the employer: They aren’t paying her an additional $18,000-24,000 a year and she has stable housing and still qualifies for childcare benefits.
This isn’t the first time Ashley has lived in employer provided-housing. Her previous job had onsite, employer-provided housing, though in a duplex rather than a single-family home. She says, “It was a paycheck, house, and health insurance, but I didn’t get a lot of joy.” That job was also at a farm, and Ashley and notes that this previous job included a lot of early hours and late hours that wouldn’t work with having a family. She had worked there part-time in high school and college and had been working there full-time for three years after college but was told she wouldn’t move up. Despite not being happy with the position, Ashley felt like she couldn’t leave until she had something else with similar benefits lined up, ideally staying in the area. She and her husband grew up in the Upper Valley and she was happy to return after college and happy to have family nearby, especially as she was starting a family.
Thankfully, she found a similar position with similar benefits and more just 20 minutes down the road. That was in 2015, and eight years later she still loves what she’s doing. Ashley adds, “I love my job, love what I’m doing, where I work, the people I work with.”
Ashley is realistic, though, and notes that farming and agriculture are very physical, and she knows she won’t be able to do it forever. If she had to move on or had to put family first and not work, she recognizes it would be a huge shift with a lot more expenses to cover. Her employer covers utilities as well, and Ashley acknowledges that her family doesn’t feel the impact of rising costs even though she knows it’s happening.
Reflecting back on her housing experiences, Ashley shares that the only time she rented was when she was in college. “When you had four college students sharing an apartment or house, dividing the costs, you could make it work,” she says. “But trying to afford that size home with a family of four on one or two incomes is tough.”
She and her husband would like to own a home at some point, but financially and logistically it works better to wait. Their house now is on the farm property, but a mile drive away, unlike the close walking distance of her previous employer-provided housing. She likes being close enough to easily get there if something comes up but removed enough to feel some separation. She’s also able to have a horse since they have a barn, something that would be harder to attain on their own. But she does see a future where she moves up the ranks at work and moves on to owning a home, which would free this housing up for other staff.
As we see more employers getting involved in housing, concerns are often raised if this is the best way to address housing issues. Ashley shares that she grew up in a home where the first floor was her family’s business, and the second floor was where they lived. Work and home being the same place is familiar to her, and she appreciated having her parents “home” all the time. She acknowledges that, in her first employer-provided housing situation, she felt somewhat taken advantage of and could understand how that could be a problem for others. But in her current housing situation, she feels she has the energy and ability to do extra when it’s needed, adding that she wants to. The work culture, it seems, can make all the difference.