An Island Couple Helped Put A Dent In Nantucket's Housing Crisis By Opening Their Home, And Their Hearts

Waverly Brannigan •

Ray Brusca, left, with Borislav (Bobby) Bochev, center, and Laura Brusca.

Ten hours before Borislav (Bobby) Bochev’s flight was set to depart Sofia, Bulgaria for Nantucket, he still had no place to live upon his arrival to the island. As this summer marks Bochev’s third summer participating in a J1 visa program in the United States, he is no stranger to the process. He had both housing and jobs lined up on Nantucket for months leading up to his departure date – until five days before he was scheduled to leave.

With jobs already secured at Topper’s at The Wauwinet as a dining room assistant and associate at the Dreamland, Bochev knew having housing for the summer before arriving on island was essential, thanks to friends from Bulgaria who had spent previous summers on Nantucket. However, traveling to the island with a friend who had received housing through her job, Bochev had to find housing on his own.

“By the end of March, we already had housing secured. We signed a contract, everything. And then five days before our departure date, the landlord contacted me through email and just said, ‘Oh, my relatives are coming into town for the summer… You will need to find something else’,” Bochev recalled.

He quickly began reaching out to his friends who had spent time on Nantucket in previous years as well as the island’s expansive Bulgarian community, seeking connections for anyone who may have a place for him to stay. At first, nobody had any leads.

It was 10 hours before his flight to the United States when Bochev posted on the “Ask Nantucket” Facebook group, asking if anybody had a place for him to stay. Summer resident Ray Brusca luckily came across Bochev’s post and quickly sent him a message to let him know that he and his wife Laura could provide a room for a week while he continued searching for full-time housing.

“I had already unpacked. I had decided I'm not going. I had already, like it was. For me, it was an easy decision because I didn't have a place to live, and I know that housing in Nantucket is very hard to find, so I already decided that I'm not coming. And 10 hours before my flight, actually, Ray messaged me on Messenger,” Bochev explained.

Now just six hours before his scheduled departure, Bochev hopped on a call with Ray and Laura, and confirmed a place to stay briefly when he arrived on the island. Having already spent the time and money on the flights and J1 program travel agency, Bochev decided to come to the island and see what it was about – allotting himself a 10-day period to find housing for the rest of the summer.

This wasn’t the first time that the Bruscas had opened their home to J1 workers. Back in 2022 they housed Georgi and Adi, a couple from Bulgaria. Having also met Georgi and Adi through Facebook, Ray and Laura knew they wanted to help when they learned that the couple had secured jobs at Marine Home Center, where they also work during the summers, but were unable to find housing. The Zoom call with Georgi and Adi went well, and the Bruscas offered them a place to stay for the summer, free of charge – even when the couple insisted they could pay.

The Bruscas with Georgi and Adi, a couple from Bulgaria who stayed at their home last summer.

“We came to learn that back in ‘22 that was sort of the going rate on-island for housing, a summer worker was $250 a week. And we understand a lot of people do that because it’s a way for them to make some money to help pay their mortgages and so forth,” Ray told the Current. “But that's not why we were getting into it. We wanted to help out some of the students that we had seen in the past that struggled with it.”

The Bruscas and Georgi and Adi quickly came up with a compromise considering utilities like electricity, and wholly welcomed the couple into their home. From buying them bikes to get around and having weekly family dinners, Ray and Laura quickly grew to care for the couple sharing their home.

“The funny thing is, by the end of the first month, they felt like our own teenagers, our own kids,” Ray says. “We were very attached to them… it was a wonderful experience. We helped out two hard-working young people that we got to know and love and care for.”

After having such a positive experience with Georgi and Adi, who they still keep in touch with regularly, Ray and Laura knew they wanted to help Bochev as much as they could. Although previously only offering Bochev housing for a few days, Ray and Laura extended the offer until July, and then again for the month of August, as they planned to travel during July and already had their house rented. Bochev agreed, and they all began searching for housing for July.

Bochev went door-to-door, asking everyone he came across if they simply knew someone with a bed to rent, but he had no luck. Worried he wouldn’t find anything in time, Ray sent an email to everyone he knew on the island, reaching out to about 150 people. Out of the 150 people, he got about 25 replies of people saying they wished they could help but didn’t have room – until he got one more reply from someone who knew another person on-island with an available room for July.

“I think you know, the important thing there is that it took 171 emails to get a friend of a friend,” Laura says. “It highlights the lack of availability for seasonal housing.”

“I think whether it's year-round or whether it's seasonal, I personally wish more people would open up their homes to help people out,” Ray adds.

Having told himself that if he hadn’t secured housing by June 20th, timing again lined up for Bochev and he had a place confirmed on June 19th. Although this is only his first time on the island, Bochev said he has already experienced the strong sense of community on Nantucket, especially compared to the places he has previously worked in the U.S.

“Nantucket, out of the three places, New Jersey, Alaska, Nantucket, I think I enjoy the most, really, just because the first time it was a very college city and Alaska was in the middle of nowhere. So this is like the perfect mix of everything,” Bochev remarked.

As for the Bruscas, they hope that more people will become aware of the challenges seasonal workers experience when trying to find housing on the island and consider opening up any space available. Although not actively searching for J1 workers each summer, Ray and Laura are willing to do all they can when tough situations arise – also making long-lasting friendships in the process.

“We think we're by doing this, we feel like we're helping some hard-working students. Also, we believe in helping the businesses by providing a place to live so they can have the summer workers they need,” Ray explains.

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