Housing on MDI is Everyone's Issue

By Amy McVety

I was born and raised in Southwest Harbor, graduated from MDIHS in 1989, and lived on MDI off and on until 1998. I moved away for my career and recently returned to the place I always called home in 2020. It has been astounding to see how much change has happened on the island during the past 20 or so years. In my memory, affordable housing has always been a challenge here, and people would often move out of their homes in the summer to rent them even when I was young. The idea of weekly rental income was only for a select few properties– mostly ones that were not winterized. Most homes were owned and lived in year-round in all towns with Northeast Harbor as perhaps the exception. I recall conversations about population and sustaining the schools’ enrollments over the years and for some needing to live off-island due to cost, so to me none of this issue is exactly new; however, it appears to me since returning home that it has just exponentially gotten worse and there is little being done to assist anyone who would like to live here year-round. This island needs people who want to be a part of this community to also be able to live here year-round. This is everyone’s issue in my opinion. Without housing for year-round island workers, everything suffers: schools, small businesses, neighborhoods, sports, infrastructure… 

I moved here from an affluent community near Philadelphia and paid $1,500 (plus utilities) for a three-bed, two-bath home, with a full basement and huge yard on a quiet dead-end street with my dog. I had a fabulous landlord, who provided privacy but also was very responsive if ever needed. Finding that here so far in the last three years has been impossible. I pay nearly that much for a two-bed duplex with some frustrating issues, and I feel lucky to have it! Worse yet, the trend seems to be that you may be kicked out at any time to allow the landlord to cash in on the weekly market. I have seen countless established families booted from their long-term rentals these past two years. I can’t say I blame the owner who wants to cash in, but when this is a popular trend, I don’t see that it helps our community at all. Obviously, there are exceptions, and I don’t ever like to paint a picture with a broad swipe, but those diamonds in the rough are hard to come by! 

As the challenge relates to my organization, Mount Desert Nursing Association, we have had two candidates turn down offers of employment in the last two years due to lack of housing, and we have just lost our intake coordinator in no small part to the lack of affordable housing for herself, partner, and dog. I appreciate organizations like MD 365 and Island Housing Trust for bringing not only attention to the issue but also offering some solutions. A single person earning a decent income, well above the Maine state median household income of $63,182 a year, and paying exorbitant rent makes homeownership near impossible. I would love to find something in this neighborhood to add to the year-round Northeast Harbor community.