Volunteer effort seeks short-term rental units for temporary COVID-19 workers

BRATTLEBORO — The math is simple: In a town with a chronic shortage of affordable housing, if medical personnel have to visit to help with COVID-19 patients, where will they live?

Kate Barry says that she has been hearing stories about how difficult it is for temporary health-care workers to find affordable short-term rentals.

The Brattleboro-based real estate agent, currently sheltering in place with her family in New Hampshire, owns and manages a set of vacation-rental units with her husband, Bruce Hunt.

Those units are now vacant, as are most all other vacation rentals, per Gov. Phil Scott's “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order.

As a result of an idea that emerged during a daily Zoom chat of area business professionals, Barry has begun a volunteer project: working with Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and the Brattleboro Retreat to supply the two facilities with rental units that are suitable for visiting staff.

She is seeking owners of suitable properties, with the idea that owners could get some essential revenue for their upkeep yet still rent them at a fee that is affordable for traveling nurses and other temporary medical employees.

“So I just saw the gap and I said, 'Okay, how can we put these two together? We have to do it safely. And we have to start doing it now,'” Barry told The Commons.

“I'm hoping we don't need it,” she added, pointing out that the area hospitals are doing well with their current patient loads. “I really am hoping that we continue to be steady and safe.”

But in preparing for that possibility, she is partnering with Brandon Pinney, a contractor from New Hampshire, another member of the business group, who does commercial-grade cleaning and disinfecting and has access to the protective equipment necessary to maintain properties safely during the current crisis and address any health and safety concerns of traveling nurses and personnel.

Barry is seeking units in a variety of sizes and locations, for prospective medical professionals with flexible needs, that meet some stringent and non-negotiable criteria for everyone's protection.

They must comply with strict cleaning and disinfecting protocols, “an essential service that must be done by a licensed and insured professional,” she wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

Units must have a separate entrance, be fully furnished, and offer a separate functioning washer and dryer.

“Basically I'm trying to do two things at once: developing the system of having a very safe and disinfected unit, and then creating a list of those possible units to share,” Barry said. “Then they can call me and say, 'Look, we have 10 people coming in, I need 10 units.' These are the dates and expectations.”

“And, hopefully, I could then network to the people in Brattleboro that have the spaces and connect the dots,” she said.

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