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The Future of Work is Remote So What Then is the Future of Housing and Community Development?

Reality check on the rush to develop large-scale workforce housing on the Boothbay Peninsula and Beyond! 


Hongkong version of the coveted large-scale workforce housing for the coveted large-scale employers. Skull Kat / Unsplash

There is a rather strange write-up by Joseph Carpentier in the local Maine paper, the Boothbay Register, Local utilities say large-scale housing development a non-issue. Strange because the story does not identify half the parties involved. It seems uncharacteristic of Joseph Carpentier, a factual and informative reporter, to arbitrarily take up the cause of large scale workforce housing and put together a story identifying players in the Region Water District and the Boothbay Region Refuse Disposal District and announcing that there is no overload threat to the sewage systems from “large scale workforce housing developments” without so much as identifying what “large scale” entails, where it is intended to be located, or the identity of housing groups that are “looking for paths to homeownership and rentals for the Boothbay peninsula’s workforce “

The absence of identity for any organizations, on the peninsula, calling for “large scale workforce housing”, hints at intentional concealment, and begs the question: Why?

The article also does not identify a “large scale peninsula workforce employer” that is suffering due to a lack of “large scale workforce housing”, on the peninsula.

Given the symbiotic relationship of the large scale employer to large scale workforce housing, it is inadequate to measure water and sewage needs of large scale workforce housing while not including the requirements of the large scale employer, which cannot be known if said employer does not currently exist.

If such a largescale workforce employer exists, It is commonplace that the employer’s voice is part of the conversation. There have been rumblings from the dining and accommodation industries, but not for lack of housing. Even Paul LePage complained about Trump restricting the J-1 Visas needed by the immigrants that work in the dining and accommodation industries where the LePage family enjoys summer employment in one of the most popular and well-paying restaurants in town, that closes two days a week for lack of a cook.

The dining and accommodation industry has worked out its own workforce housing arrangements long ago, otherwise, the system would not be working as well as it once did before Trump restricted the visas, so the dining and accommodations industry cannot account for a “large scale workforce” that needs the “large scale workforce housing”.

The absence of an identifiable large scale employer leads to the conclusion that the call for building large-scale workforce housing is driven not by the need for large-scale workforce housing, but by the desire of realtors and developers to build production housing in response to a current boom in real estate sales whereby the industry wants to make as much money per square foot as it can. The industry wants to change the town ordinances by radically reducing the land plot size that a building occupies, even reducing the plot size to the point that townhouses can be built wall to wall like city blocks dropped into a rural surrounding on land maintained by central management.

It is because realtors and developers want to build production housing to increase profits from the real estate boom, that the narrative is spun as a need for large scale workforce housing, which subsequently calls for large scale employers, and then “incentives” enter the public dialogue, putting the region in competition with large scale communities- and the answer to that, in this train of thought, is to fund the beginning stage of a fifty million dollar school system, which under Industrial Partnerships is one and the same thing as workforce training, starting in elementary school and continuing on up the career climbing ladder. Given the number of subsidies that an educational system, which is at once an industrial training center for state-favored industries, can bring in, there is a lot of competition among communities for the location of such centers. Is the thinking behind the fifty million dollar school that by having the plan already in the works, and more importantly, partially paid for, will give the Boothbay Peninsula the competitive edge for government educational subsidies, and if so, is that fair to the rest of the state?

On the Boothbay Peninsula, prior to the real estate boom, caused by the urban to rural migration, the year-round employees were not given consideration in an ordinance structure that gives away affordable year-round housing to the AirBnB’s. Regional developer, Paul Coulombe lead the way in escalating the costs per night to stay in an AirBnB on the Boothbay peninsula. With AirBmB’s totally unregulated, it is nearly impossible to find year-round rentals on the peninsula, other than in housing developments designed for specific social-economic strata.

Missing from the housing and economic development discussion is an awareness of fundamental transformations undergoing within large-scale workforces, which is the rapidly evolving shift away from large office headquarters to remote working. In central management, workforces are treated en masse as negotiable instruments of trade. Until coronavirus put remote working on the fast track, the individual voices of the workers were not part of the public deal-making that takes place between partners in public-private relationships. Now change is well underway. Much of the workforce does not want to return to headquarters.

The Atlantic on Medium: Why Managers Fear a Remote-Work Future by Ed Zitron
Last fall, 94 percent of employees surveyed in a Mercer study reported that remote work was either business as usual or better than working in the office, likely because it lacks the distractions, annoyances, and soft abuses that come with co-workers and middle managers. Workers are happier because they don’t have to commute and can be evaluated mostly on their actual work rather than on the optics-driven albatross of “office culture,” which is largely based on either the HR handbook or the pieces of the HR handbook your boss chooses to ignore.

Taking the transformation within the workforces into consideration, for a small rural peninsula, there is no need for “large scale employees” or “large scale workforce housing”. There is instead a need for single-family homes with enough space to have an office or other type of business in a home, where a creative and productive lifestyle with a healthy work-life balance has room to grow. The same sentiment that is driving the workforce to want to work in the privacy of their own homes will lead them to prefer a home NOT situated in a centrally managed housing project with smaller and smaller spaces in the interest of real estate profits.

The workforce is voicing its will to move away from the centrally managed corporate culture which is reinforced by “workforce” housing projects. The workforce wants to move away from distractions and to be in an environment where the individual has control over their own work-life balance. Contrary to central management negotiating jobs for workforce blocks, the new workforce is becoming empowered to make its own individualized choices about where it works and it lives. Housing developments are not in tune with the emergent paradigm They are a fit to the paradigm of large-scale workforces confined in corporate headquarters with many desks all lined up without walls, an albatross from the era of central management, both public and private which is thankfully receding into the past. The silver lining of the corona cloud is that virus hibernation has proven that remote working works!

Boothbay is heralding itself as a leader in municipal corporatism by entering into a public-private relationship with Spectrum so that the town, which was rated as “overserved” in its broadband capabilities by the state, can gain greater internet service.

For years, Boothbay leadership has been pushing for installing tax-payer-funded fiber optics cable. The new public-private relationship between the town of Boothbay and Spectrum will provide a hybrid coaxial and fiber broadband. Super-fast fiber broadband means that any desk job can be done remotely. So why does Boothbay need twentieth-century “large scale workforce housing” if it is pushing for twenty-first-century fiber-optics cable that changes the future of work?

The announcement by the Water and Refuse experts in the Boothbay Register article is followed by this cryptic statement:

local utilities are just waiting for the word. Boothbay Harbor Sewer District Superintendent Chris Higgins, Boothbay Region Water District General Manager Jon Ziegra and Boothbay Region Refuse Disposal District Manager Steve Lewis all said residential expansion would have little to no effect on daily operations. ( emphasis by author)

What is “the word” that the local utilities await and from whom is “the word” coming? Does the follow-up sentence offer a clue? Is the answer found in another recent article in the Boothbay Register, also by Joseph Carpentier, in which evaluation authority over Boothbay Harbor ordinance planning is being granted to the Lincoln County Planning Commission?

LCRPC to spearhead Boothbay Harbor housing, ordinance review

Boothbay Harbor enlisted Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission May 3 for an ordinance review and socioeconomic evaluation relating mainly to housing. The town issued a request for proposals March 6 and LCRPC responded April 2. The two parties discussed a reorganization of priorities April 27 and a revision was presented May 3. Lincoln County commissioners approved the contract May 18.

The town leaders generally hire outside authorities bypassing community involvement in decisive processes, all legal in Maine, The only way for the residences of a community to protect their own decision-making authority is to form a town charter that requires town planners to be residences of the community and/or to require the hiring of outside consultants to be approved by a municipal referendum.

An examination of the language used to assert the housing needs, of a particular character, uses the circular method of reasoning, which appears to be what is at work here. The reasoning goes: “We need large scale workforce housing to attract large scale corporations who will hire large scale workforces who want to live on this peninsula so that they will shop and wine and dine in our own community.”

The community leaders make much to do about the fact that those employed by one of the Peninsula’s prized employers, Bigelow Labs, do not live on the peninsula but instead commute from other areas where it is more affordable to live in a rural quality single-family home, surrounded by one’s own plot of nature. Why would employees want that when they can live in city block-styled urban living, designed by central management, on the peninsula? Is living a more gracious and individual lifestyle off the peninsula worth the commute? Not according to the world view of Boothbay’s current leading classes, who base their pressing need for “large scale workforce housing” on the concept that Boothbay will attract large corporate headquarters. However, speculatively, plan B is if the large scale employers do not show up, the “large scale workforce housing” might make a boon town of “short-term rentals” aka Air B&B’s, but that will only work if the Trump-era restrictions on J-1 Visas are reversed so that the there can continue to be a seasonal workforce of immigrants for the region to import to provide the wining and dining services to attract the tourist set.

There is room for hope in interpreting the tone of the article about “a reorganization of our priorities” in words spoken by LCRPC’s county planner Emily Rabbe:

LCRPC’s county planner Emily Rabbe

Whether or not the 2015 goals and town code match may be irrelevant since the COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to reevaluate their housing desires, said by LCRPC’s county planner Emily Rabbe in LCRPC to spearhead Boothbay Harbor housing, ordinance review

We hope to see that conversation broaden before the target date for the reorganization of existing resident’s priorities to be considered by the Town of Boothbay Harbor in May 2022,

Originally published at https://www.newsbreak.com.

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