Towns split on request for housing study funds



BAR HARBOR — Island Housing Trust, the nonprofit working to create affordable housing for the year-round working population of Mount Desert Island, pitched a housing study to Mount Desert Island towns in February.

The organization asked for a one-time $5,000 contribution from each town to conduct a study that would analyze the housing market and make recommendations based on the housing needs it identifies.

So far, Bar Harbor has agreed to contribute funding, Southwest Harbor and Tremont have denied the request, and Mount Desert has not yet acted.

According to materials IHT provided to the towns, data will be collected on existing housing stock; housing and land issues, including housing affordability and the effects of home sharing such as Airbnb and vacation rentals; demographics; economics; demand analysis; and housing challenges.

The trust would work with Mount Desert 365, and hopes to complete the study by the fall.

Town councilors in Bar Harbor unanimously approved the contribution at their meeting on Feb. 20.

“We’re in the midst of trying to pool together the resources to get a comprehensive picture of our housing needs now and into the next 10 years,” Ted Koffman, president of the trust’s board of directors, told the councilors.

Town Manager Cornell Knight said the town already had reserved funds for a study of the same purpose. The council had identified affordable housing as one of its goals last year.

“These are all issues that we need to get a handle on,” he added.

Selectmen in Tremont denied the request at a meeting the same evening, citing a missed application deadline.

IHT completed the nonprofit grant application and submitted 29 verified Tremont voter signatures, but missed the grant application submission deadline of Dec. 11.

Alison Beane, the nonprofit’s director, had emailed then-Town Manager Dana Reed in July about the study, but she only heard back from the town in January, after the grant deadline had passed.

Some selectmen thought the organization was asking for too much money for a survey, others thought the town didn’t need the study.

“We approached a lot of this information in our comprehensive plan that we did a few years ago,” said Selectman Chris Eaton.

Mostly, selectmen were concerned about making an exception and the impact it would have on other organizations that sought town funding but missed the deadline.

“I think it’s a great thing, I think they do great stuff, but I just feel like we’re opening up the door. How many other agencies or situations are going to start calling [the town manager] tomorrow and saying, ‘Hey, what about me?’” said Selectman McKenzie Jewett.

Selectmen in Southwest Harbor initially approved the funding request during budget meetings. But they changed course at a special budget session Tuesday afternoon, removing the planned contribution to IHT from the budget. The cut was part of a $163,391 reduction in the budget for fiscal year 2019.

The request is still pending with the Board of Selectmen in Mount Desert.

Henriette Chacar

Henriette Chacar

Former Islander reporter Henriette Chacar covered the towns of Southwest Harbor and Tremont.
Henriette Chacar

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