Confronting MDI’s workforce housing problem



BAR HARBOR — Last week the Jesup Memorial Library hosted a virtual meeting called Confronting the Challenge of Affordable Workforce Housing on Mount Desert Island. 

The event, led by the library’s Advancement and Community Relations Director Lila Miller, featured guest speakers from Island Housing Trust (IHT), which is an organization that promotes year-round island communities by providing permanent workforce housing on Mount Desert Island.  

In the six years IHT board member Kendra Rand has lived on the island, her family has said goodbye to six families, at least one family a year, due to lack of affordable workforce housing. 

Rand said that Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor may be losing 20 families this school year due to the housing shortage crisis and that top candidates for open teaching positions may withdraw if they cannot find homes.  

According to Conners Emerson Principal Barb Neilly, the school loses students each spring.  

“Many families move on because of a lack of affordable housing. We have families that live in campgrounds during the shoulder season in September through October waiting to return to their rental in Bar Harbor,” said Neilly.  

Rand went on to say that the workforce housing crisis is hampering the island’s emergency personnel and essential workers. 

Fifty-four percent of people who work on MDI don’t live there, according to studies done by Kyle Shank, an IHT Advisory Council member and quantitative researcher. He found that the average home value on MDI went from $143,000 in 2000 to $320,000 in 2016 – a jump of about 125 percent. As of July 2021, this value has gone up another 37 percent, with a median home value on MDI now standing at $430,000. 

“The one potential cause that leads to the rise in home values is going to be the large use of single-family dwelling units on the island, along with other associated housing types, as short-term vacation rentals in the past three years,” said Shank. Shank provided a graph that showed Airbnb listings on MDI increasing 1,000 percent between 2015 and 2018. 

Another factor that contributes to the rise in home values on the island, said Shank, has to do with the influx of families that chose to relocate to the island during the pandemic. On one of the presentation slides, he noted that in 2020, Hancock County saw an 88 percent increase in relocated households from out of state.  

“When there’s an influx of out of state residents with an influx of out of state jobs, it’s going to have some sort of impact on the housing market to some degree,” he said. 

Shank included census data from 2021 across all four towns on MDI, showing that the median household income is $75,700 while the median asking price for a home is $657,000. The monthly mortgage payment would be an estimated $3,800 and the income required to afford a home of that price would be roughly $152,000. “The reality is we’re estimating that the median single family would need to make more than twice as much as they actually do to afford the median asking price for a home on the island,” Shank said.  

“In the mid-2000s, Island Housing Trust began providing housing opportunities for funding down payments, renovating homes, relocating homes and developing new homes to working middle class families,” said IHT Executive Director Marla O’Byrne, who added that IHT has provided 48 homeownership opportunities and helped 140 people find a home on the island. The organization has developed two neighborhoods and is in the process of building and fundraising for one more. 

IHT’s current challenge is trying to navigate the real estate market, which O’Byrne says has gone wild within the last year. The organization is in the middle of a capital campaign with a goal to raise $3.5 million to build a 10-unit affordable, energy-efficient housing development in Bar Harbor and set aside funds to help local families with down payments and other financial assistance during the homebuying process. To date, $1.85 million has been raised.  

For more information, visit www.iht4mdi.org. 

Ninah Gile

Ninah Gile

Reporter at MDIslander
Ninah Gile, an MDI native, covers the town of Bar Harbor. She is glad to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor's degree in San Diego from the University of California.
Ninah Gile

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