Who Needs Housing?

By Kathy Miller

Dear Friends and Readers,

Over the past year, housing has become a serious topic of concern all over the country, with a range of factors contributing to the problem. As I write this blog post, our issue of Mainebiz arrived in the mail and the cover story is “Maine’s growing Housing Crunch”, with the subhead, “Cash buyers, short-term rentals and rising home prices are shutting Mainers out.” Almost every day the Bangor Daily News has several articles on housing issues from the region. So, Mount Desert is by no means the only community grappling with affordable housing issues, but that is little comfort if you’re one of those people being turned out of your rental home with no place to go and nothing available you can afford to buy or rent.

Our organization’s plans include providing housing opportunities for both ownership and long-term leases. We currently have just three apartments to lease, and all are leased to year-round tenants – all of whom we hope will stay long-term, or move into homeownership. We get regular inquiries about availability, and we are saddened each time we have to say “no, and nothing is available for the foreseeable future.” We keep a list of interested parties so we can get back to them when we do have something. We ask for information about household size, employment, and contact info. I thought it might be helpful to share something here about who is looking for housing, and the people we’d like to help find their next home.

We’ve had a wide range of ages looking, from late twenties into their seventies. Single people, couples, and families with up to four or five children. People working for Acadia National Park, in the hospital, in the hospitality industry, chefs, masseuses, artists, architects, landscapers, educators, and public and nonprofit employees. Some of the inquiries are from people who grew up here, moved away, and have now returned to settle down. Other inquiries are from people who came here for a job or came to visit with a friend, and now they want to stay. All are working.

We have also been contacted by local employers who have a potential new employee who will need housing. We have heard from at least three organizations recently who made a job offer to an individual, only to have them turn it down because they couldn’t find housing.

The challenge of affordable housing has been with us for quite a long time. It was the primary objective of the Town Comprehensive Plan of 2009 to deal with the problem – and that Plan was years in the making. In fact, the MDI Tomorrow efforts of the early 2000s focused a great deal on affordable year-round housing, and Island Housing Trust grew out of that effort. While IHT has made great strides in providing housing through a variety of means to many families, and we enjoy partnering with them whenever possible, it still isn’t enough, and the problem is growing.

There has always been a summer rental market on MDI, but with the advancement of software like Airbnb and VRBO expanding the marketing around the globe, the number of seasonal and short-term rentals has exploded. There is no question there is money to be made in the short-term rental market, and that has grown as an income generator for some local residents, to a degree helping people stay in their own homes, paying down mortgages or property taxes. However, in too many instances, houses that had been year-round homes have been bought up and turned into short-term rental properties, or even seasonal employee housing, making them unavailable for year-round rental, and unaffordable for purchase by a year-round family.

Here in Mount Desert, there are many seasonal families with long histories in the community, and as generations grow up, they require their own homes for their growing families. What a nice problem to have – people wanting to live here, and a desire for family continuity – except for the reality of not enough houses for everyone who wants one. Construction costs were already high when COVID hit, and then a double negative happened – even more people wanted to be here, escaping larger cities, and then supply chain problems exacerbated the costs of construction.

So, as competition and costs go up, availability goes down. The people we see caught by the problem are the middle-income working folks who have a job, even a good-paying job, who can’t find a rent or afford a purchase because, according to Mainebiz, “Buyers are offering cash, foregoing appraisals and inspections, and sometimes buying sight unseen. Listings attract dozens of viewers and multiple bids.”

This long-standing problem is growing worse. Our community is suffering with fewer year-round residents who can volunteer for emergency services or Town committees, shrinking school populations and local workforce, or the customer base for businesses outside the busy summer months.

Market forces alone will not solve this problem. This is why we are here, and we are committed to doing our part to foster a thriving year-round community with safe, affordable, energy-efficient residences for sale or rent on a year-round basis. We hope you’ll support us and contribute to our efforts to help our friends, family, neighbors, and the community in creating lasting solutions.

We’ll be sharing information soon on what we hope to develop on Main Street in Northeast Harbor to address the housing shortage. Please feel free to stop by our offices to learn more.