Contractors in Stowe cannot find carpenters. Carpenters cannot afford housing

Builder Tim Meehan, seen on Tuesday June 29, 2021, at a house in Stowe he recently built, has struggled to find carpenters to work for him. Photo by Glenn Russell / VTDigger

STOWE – Matt Hill comes out of a wood he clears above Stowe. He cuts to make room for six lots for new homes.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re out of state, in the state there are people who buy these properties because they love Vermont,” Hill said. “It amazes me how many people want to build here. “

Hill said he was surprised that the high cost of building materials had not slowed the frenetic pace of construction in the city.

He said the job is good.

He commutes from the nearby town of Elmore, where he grew up and where he owns a few acres with his mother. He looked for an apartment closer to his job in Stowe, but said he couldn’t afford it.

“Most of my guys live in outlying towns,” said Brendan O’Reilly, Hill employer and founder of Grist Mill Builders at Waterbury Center. “These are all about 35 minutes away.”

O’Reilly points out that this situation is not historically unusual in seaside resorts. He remembers his first carpentry job, at age 20, in Hawaii, sleeping in the house he was building.

“If I didn’t hang my hammock in the house, I wasn’t living anywhere near this coastal Hawaiian house,” said O’Reilly, 57.

Because he kept his 20 or so employees on the payroll during the pandemic, O’Reilly said he was able to keep his teams but it is difficult to hire new carpenters.

On another O’Reilly site, a multinational group of carpenters work in a restaurant. They all drive at least half an hour to get to work.

Marek Bal emigrated from Poland. Vermont reminds him of the mountains where he grew up. He lives in Johnson, half an hour away.

“It’s not easy,” Bal said. “We were thinking about moving to Stowe, but it’s way too expensive. The housing market is crazy right now.

Leonidas Ancan emigrated from Chile as a child. It drives from Berlin, which takes up to 50 minutes. He wants to buy a house.

“Definitely not in Stowe, because it’s very expensive here,” he said.

Adrian Small emigrated from Barbados. He lives in Morrisville, half an hour away.

“I would love to buy a seat,” Small said. “Vermont is nice, but everything is so expensive. “

One of the factors preventing contractors from hiring carpenters is the rapidly rising cost of living in Stowe.

Before the pandemic, Tim Meehan said he could post a request for help on Route 100 outside his office and ask nine or ten carpenters to respond.

“Those days are long gone,” Meehan said.

Carpenters are so hard to find in Stowe that Meehan is reduced to a three-man team and an apprentice he hired as part of an internship program at Stowe High School. Having a small team kept them safe during the pandemic, Meehan said.

Some Stowe contractors compensate for the shortage of carpenters by doing some of the work themselves.

Gordon Dixon said he had just come down from a rooftop, where he had framed for eight hours, before speaking to VTDigger. He said his team was down to two carpenters and himself.

Dixon was eight a year ago.

“Two guys left on their own,” he said. “Three retirees. Another carpenter has left for another business. We just took a lot less work.

Despite this, Dixon said he had booked a year and a half to two years.

It is not just the pandemic that has caused the shortage of carpenters.

In the past seven or eight years, a generation of carpenters has been lost to the opioid epidemic, Meehan said. He sees it in the missing talent in carpenters in their 30s.

“I’ve had three over the years, employees who had issues that we tried to solve and give second and third chances, and it just didn’t work, and they threw in the towel. before me, ”he said. “So I think that caused a big gap in the workforce.”

Meehan also blames the additional $ 300 per week in federal unemployment benefits that expire in September for the carpenter shortage.

And, it highlights the abundance of construction in town.

“There are so many construction sites,” he says.

So much so that he sees employees starting their own businesses.

And he points to the disappearance of affordable housing.

Builder Tim Meehan, seen on Tuesday June 29, 2021, at a house in Stowe he recently built, has struggled to find carpenters to work for him. Photo by Glenn Russell / VTDigger

Meehan said most affordable rental housing for working class people has been converted to Airbnb.

Add to that the fact that people moved to Vermont during the pandemic.

“Every second home that was a second home has ended up being a primary residence in the past 18 months,” Meehan said. “Everyone who owned these houses in the lower part of the country came here to escape the pandemic. “

“I had employees who called within the hour [of seeing a listing for an apartment for rent], and there are already 15 people looking, ”said Michael Roche, an arborist just across town from Waterbury.

Roche also said he kept everyone on the payroll during the pandemic. He used loans from the Federal Payment Protection Program.

To deal with the housing shortage, Roche is considering selling lots in the nearby town of Duxbury to first-time buyers aged 25 to 40 who have been unable to purchase land. The lots will have electricity, water and septic systems as well as Internet connections. He plans to sell lots of 2-3 acres for $ 65,000 to $ 70,000 each.

“People with money who move here, very often they can buy big plots of land and lock everything down,” Roche said, “and that makes it all the more difficult for our young people to find something that they can afford. “

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