How would you like to work for beautiful Nantucket Island? The Massachusetts tourist Mecca has a rich history and beautiful beaches. There's one problem: To buy a home in this charming community, you'll have to dish out—on average—about $1.3 million.

Because Nantucket can only be reached by ferry boat or airplane, living on the island makes more sense than commuting from the mainland. “It's a 2½-hour boat ride to get to the island,” says Jeff Willett, director of Nantucket Department of Public Works. “If there's floods, hurricanes, blizzards—or if a pumping station blows up—employees need to be here.”

The residency requirement poses a dilemma for those who maintain the island's infrastructure because their salaries can't compete with Nantucket's high cost of living. Many employees must rent, which means paying $2,500/month during the winter, and being forced to leave those dwellings when rents spike for the tourist season.

“Property owners can charge up to $2,000 a week during the summer,” explains Willett. “It's beyond the reach of our employees.”

Displaced employees bunk with family or friends until winter—and lower rents—return. Or they turn in their resignations. To remedy these problems, the department lobbied for employee housing.

The department procured a $1.6 million bond issue to build two duplexes. Scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, the two-family houses are part of a larger project to build a $45 million wastewater treatment plant. Although plant operators have first dibs at the duplexes—a recruitment incentive to staff the plant—public works employees are next in line. Willett anticipates rent to be set below market prices, and based on income and the renting employee's ability to pay.

This is Nantucket's first attempt at meeting employee housing needs. Says Willett: “It's only four units total, but it's a start.”

Obviously, note very community can offer housing to employees—or needs to. And not every community has such a clear-cut need for a residency requirement. What spurs the residency debate elsewhere is the murky question of when requirements should be enforced and when they should be lifted.


“Communities typically want residency so public works professionals can respond quickly in an emergency and so they truly understand the impact of the services delivered to the community,” explains Heidi Voorhees, president of management consulting firm The PAR Group. Based in Lake Bluff, Ill., the firm provides management and recruitment services to local governments nationwide.