Local government continues to explore housing options for new employees
WTIP file photo

Local government continues to explore housing options for new employees

Local government in Cook County is going to have to get into the business of either owning or leasing housing for new hires to have a landing place when they arrive for work, officials say.

“That’s what all the major employers in the county already do,” County Administrator James Joerke said during a meeting of the county board April 12. “The resorts and whatnot, they know that if they want to bring in staff, they’re going to have to have a place for them to land. And we don’t have that advantage currently, and it continues to be an obstacle for us.”

Joerke said he does not currently have a plan in place for how the county would obtain housing to offer new employees. During an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs after the board meeting, Joerke said the county would consider a variety of options to put the plan into action, including the possible use of tax-forfeited properties the county currently possesses.

The notion of acquiring or modifying property to offer potential new employees follows a thread of housing discussions happening at the county level. County officials in March discussed the concept of hiring remote workers to fill open positions, observing in a March 22 meeting of the commissioners that this approach might become essential to retain or hire workers in some fields, including local government.

Highway Engineer Robbie Hass explained to the commissioners that due to the lack of available housing in Cook County, and the fact job openings are going unfilled at the highway department, it could be time to consider hiring remote workers who do not live in the community. To be specific, Hass suggested some workers hired by the county might not live anywhere near the North Shore or surrounding region.

The idea spurred conversation among the commissioners and county staff about addressing a lack of workers available to fill various jobs where an office, desk and computer would be the typical setting.

“We’ve had a lot of turnover in the last year especially. And we’ve had a number of positions that have remained vacant for months at a time,” Joerke said. “And that that does relate to the challenges that all your listeners know about related to our housing, where there just isn’t a lot of housing available currently, and what is available, is not necessarily affordable for most folks. And so that makes it really challenging. If even if you can find people who are interested in working up here and are qualified for a position, it’s tremendously difficult to get them up here and get them into a place where they can live. And so, you know, that challenge has caused us to start thinking a little bit about what our workforce might look like in the future.”

Other topics discussed during the interview include a public town hall style meeting April 12 about redistricting and how it will impact the 2022 election in Cook County and a possible increase in state funding to the county from the state in the form of payment in lieu of taxes.

Listen to the audio below to hear the full interview.