Saving Our Community Together

By Kathy Miller, Mollie Seyffer, and Eliza Worrick

The Islander’s recent article about our work and plans for a subdivision in Northeast Harbor of year-round homes created quite a stir. We were aware of the petition opposed to our plans. Clearly many others are in favor. To our surprise, and delight, a counter petition was created over New Year’s weekend that has already gathered over 160 signatures, and many supportive comments. We did not have a hand in creating it, but we are grateful to the residents that did start it. We recognize many of the signatures as residents of NEH, the Town of Mount Desert, MDI, and beyond, including some young adults who grew up here and now live away, and some grownups who used to be seasonal residents but now live here year-round. It is a great representation of people who care deeply for this place – just as those who oppose our plans do. The difference is the realization of just how dire our housing situation is, and the belief that real change is needed, or the community we all love is in danger of an existential collapse.

We are experiencing a housing crisis that will take multiple approaches to solve the need for shelter, for workers, for school children. Several major institutions on MDI are actively working on this front – Island Housing Trust, Jackson Lab, MDI Bio Lab, College of the Atlantic, MDI YWCA, Acadia National Park, Friends of Acadia, and MDI Hospital – and we are talking to each other about it. There is no one size that will fit all needs, and each housing development will look unique. And that is as it should be.

While this housing crisis developed over decades, it came to a head in recent years with bidding wars on modest homes and prices soaring over half a million dollars, well out of reach for the essential workers on MDI. Just look at our year-round job board to see examples of high-quality jobs (including several first responders) that lie vacant in large part because our community is missing the year-round residents to fill them. School populations are declining, plumbers and electricians are scarce, and existing businesses are limiting their hours or closing altogether due to a lack of people living here year-round. Market forces are not going to solve this housing crisis. It will take an intervention and a commitment to create year-round homes, and to keep them affordable in perpetuity.

We strongly believe that the homes planned for our parcel of land on Manchester and Neighborhood Roads will be significant and essential contributions to alleviating the housing crisis – and they will fit well in this village. We are not trying to change the “character” of Northeast Harbor, except that here in January the “character” is that of a town in decline, with stores closed for the winter and streets dark and empty. What we strive for is a return to a more vibrant community, with individuals and families sharing the joys of living in close proximity to where they work, worship, go to school, shop, and exercise.

The character and economy of Northeast Harbor, and the island as a whole, will continue to decline without an injection of homes accessible to the people who keep our villages and the island running and thriving year-round. We are so grateful for the support received so far, and we always hope to win over those who have concerns and worry about change. Change is the only constant in life. Let’s keep working together to manage change and save our community.