PROVINCETOWN — A priest’s retirement has been an unlikely boon for two local businesses.
The Rev. Terry Pannell, previously of St. Mary of the Harbor Episcopal church, retired in February, leaving vacant the four-bedroom rectory overlooking the water.
A consultant enlisted by business owners brokered a deal that would enable several seasonal workers to live at the empty rectory, addressing an issue and concern for many businesses as the summer months begin to roll in.
St. Mary’s, at 517 Commercial St., offered its space with the help of Sandmark Management that represents Pepe’s Wharf restaurant and The Patio.
The church offered workforce housing to J1 and summer workers from May 15 to Sept. 15 and the restaurants are footing the rent bill to help the workers make ends meet, the interim rector, the Rev. William Rich, said over the phone.
J1 is an exchange visitor who participates in approved programs demonstrating certain skills, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
“We’re glad to be supporting the needs of the town to provide housing for seasonal workers,” Rich said.
Finding a space for rent
There is a year-round population of just under 3,000 and a summer population as high as 60,000, according to the Chamber of Commerce. The number of workers continues to grow to accommodate the large influx of visitors Provincetown sees each year.
The estimated annual average of seasonal workers in 2019 was 557. In February of that year the number of workers was 633, by July that number increased sharply to 711, according to the 2021 Provincetown quarterly, low season, and peak season population analysis.
The rectory property was discovered by an outside consultant for Sandmark Management who was hired to find housing for the summer workers of Pepe’s Wharf Inc., and The Patio restaurants, co-owner of the restaurants, Joachim Sandbichler, said at The Patio restaurant.
Sandbichler and his husband Mark Ferrari own several companies and restaurants including Sandmark Management, the company that signed the lease with the church.
“We hired [a consultant] specifically in February to kind of get ahead of that problem,” Sandbichler said. “The problem, of course, being the staff housing crisis. We hired [a consultant] and their job at the time for the last three months was to scour ads and talk to people in town and come up with whatever we could come up with.”
Summer renting at the rectory
The rectory housing is being occupied by five J1 workers from Bulgaria, one worker from California, one from Florida, and one from Montenegro, according to a person at The Patio who identified himself as a house manager but declined to give his full name.
The lease to the rectory has been signed by Sandmark Management and went into effect on May 15.
While living at the rectory, there are specific conditions that each resident must abide by. The rectory is on the church grounds and those who are living there need to be respectful of the use of the space, Rich said.
“For instance, we can’t have kids outdoors partying on a Sunday morning when we have services, there are weddings and funerals held in the church that they have to be respectful of,” Rich said.
Why workforce housing?
The church picked workforce housing because of the shortage in housing space for workers in the summer.
“I think everybody in Provincetown knows what a trouble the town is having providing a space for summer workforce. As a sign of the parish’s desire to help support the town’s needs, we wanted to provide housing since there’s such a crisis about that for seasonal workers,” Rich said.
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The rectory is a good space for housing workers, Sandbichler said.
“It’s in much better shape than most accommodations that J1s go to,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about it, but it’s just a very small part of our solution.”
Sandbichler knew this summer was going to be a crunch to find housing. He has 120 people to house and of that 120, there are 29 J1 workers that need housing as well.
It is important that everyone understands what kind of crisis the town is in when it comes to housing, Sandbichler said.
There was time when $4K was enough to rent worker housing for the summer
There was a time when there were houses to rent and a restaurant or business owner could help house four or eight people for $3,000 or $4,000 for the summer, Sandbichler said, but that has totally dried up now.
Housing has been an issue in Provincetown for some time. Town voters recently passed nine housing articles at the town meeting. On May 6, a virtual housing pitch contest was held with EforAll, a non-profit entrepreneurial organization that partners with communities to help under-represented individuals.
The church’s social media page informed the public of who the space would be rented to. The post was met with positive responses.
Some thought the idea was wonderful and kind, and others thanked the church for opening their hearts and rectory to the community.