Ocracoke Island, NC, from above
A small place, Ocracoke has a tight housing situation. Photo: C. Leinbach

Talk to business owners, young people wishing to work here for the summer and those who have year-round jobs and there is a consensus: affordable housing here is sorely lacking.

This is not a new problem, but based on the seasonal economy and small size of the village, this issue is one of Ocracoke’s greatest challenges with no easy solutions. 

Of course, other towns have a greater variety of housing options.  Cities often have houses with basement efficiencies that permit someone to live and pay a rent within the means of their income. But Ocracoke has no basements and very few options for low-cost housing for either seasonal or year-round.

Realizing this problem, several island businesses have their own housing available for seasonal workers whom they hire. But this doesn’t help all young or older workers who want to live on the island inexpensively, be it seasonally or long-term.

From 1977 until the late 1990s, island visionary Vickie Cobb rented rooms in her Oyster Creek home to half a dozen college women for the summer.  Known affectionately as “The Cobb Boarding House,” the young women had to fend for themselves, but the idea worked at a time when taxes were considerably lower and everything was less expensive, says Vicki’s daughter Candice Cobb.

Year-round workers, including teachers, may find places to rent from September to April, but often must vacate their abodes in deference to weekly summer rentals, from which landlords can make more money for several months than they can from year-round renters.

Such scrambles have forced many productive members of the community to leave for more stabilized housing and lifestyle.

Could some buildings on the island be converted to efficiency apartments for these workers? What would be a reasonable monthly rent payment that could be acceptable for both the landlords and the renters? We encourage a discussion of this pressing issue.

There are plenty of knowledgeable people on the island who could come up with creative ideas that could help solve this vexing issue.

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  1. Take over an old hotel,turn it into a hostel type setup(common kitchen area and men and women shared showers and restrooms.Criteria is that you have employment on Ocracoke verified by employer,sign a rental agreement to abide by rules,have a on premise manager with a curfew.Each tenant shares in cleaning and maintaining the facilities. Minimum 6 month lease or all year.

  2. I think I had seen an old hotel at Ocracoke that is in need of some repairs and is up for sale, as of May 2017. Would it be possible to repair and reopen as housing for these employees looking for somewhere to live? To pay for some of their rent, have them help with repairs, lawn care etc. I’m sure the owner could get millions if sold, but that may be an idea ro resolve this issue.

  3. Bring back subprime mortgages with zero down payment. Our local and national economy is failing because the young have nothing to leverage for investment. My parents bought their first house at 21 years old, I’m 32 and won’t be able to afford a home until I’m 45-50, my kids will be paying on the house note. It’s going to turn into intergenerational loans very soon.

  4. When I lived in Napa, CA area several years ago, I came across one of several “migrant farm worker housing” projects. This one, built on land donated by the esteemed Joseph Phelps Winery, was a series of four simple dorm style two story buildings with 20 rooms and four shared baths per building, a shared kitchen and common room and a “quad” with outside space for all to share. There was a live-in manager who maintained the property and acted as chaperone. He and his family occupied a small two bedroom apartment in one of the buildings which had its own kitchen.

    The whole thing worked remarkably well. The buildings were simple concrete block construction with limited amenities. Perhaps a group of island businesses could pitch in together to construct something similar.

  5. “from which landlords can make more money for several months than they can from year-round renters.”

    Get the greed out and you might have a solution?

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