For Helena Kness, the future seemed clear. The single mother and recent nursing school graduate couldn't find affordable housing in Ventura County in July, so she packed her bags for Oregon.
That's when Community Memorial Hospital stepped in. Like most health care institutions in the region, the hospital has trouble finding registered nurses.
But thanks to an innovative housing program launched last year, Kness moved into an affordable apartment owned by the hospital, and Community Memorial gained a nurse.
"I think it's a great idea," Kness said of the two-bedroom apartment she rents for $550 a month from the hospital--at least $150 below the market rate.
"They gave me an advance for the first month's rent and, basically, I just moved in and paid it back over three months. I would have left town otherwise."
Kness is among the first to benefit from the hospital's purchase of several homes and a four-unit apartment building, all within several blocks of the hospital. The units are available to employees with hard-to-find skills at up to $200 below the market rate. And the hospital doesn't charge first month's rent or a security deposit.
By contrast, Don Carlton Realtors, a Ventura firm that manages about 230 apartments, charges between $650 and $850 for two-bedroom units and requires first month's rent and a security deposit, according to property manager Cordaine Engols.
For many, such incentives as the rental subsidy offered by Community Memorial can make the difference between leaving town and staying put.
"One of the issues I've read continually about is the high cost of housing. This is a nice way of ameliorating that impact," said Dr. Michael D. Bakst, executive director of the hospital.
The hospital is among a handful of Ventura County firms pioneering creative ways to help recruit and retain employees as housing costs spiral upward.
At Community Memorial, employees can stay in the hospital-owned housing for up to one year while they save money to move into their own apartments or buy homes. The hospital, which is in the market for another four-unit complex, has hired a property manager for the units.
"It's worked out well," Bakst said. Kness echoed that sentiment when asked what she thinks about the housing assistance program.
"It's a nice little place in a real nice neighborhood two blocks from the hospital," she said. "And $550 is an excellent price."