Two trends help explain the lack of affordable housing on Mount Desert Island. One is the growth of short-term vacation rentals. The other is the phenomenon of large employers buying apartments and other buildings for seasonal employee housing.
Acadia National Park’s recently announced plan to partner with a private developer to build, on federal land, apartments for seasonal employee housing has the potential to be a positive development on several fronts.
“Over the past several years, the supply of private-sector, seasonal housing has shrunk as units have been converted to short-term, high cost vacation rentals, severely limiting the ability of Acadia and other local employers to house their seasonal staffs,” the National Park Service said.
Acadia currently has seasonal housing units with a total of about 80 beds. Each year, the park hires 150-160 employees to work during the peak visitor season — May through October. Some seasonal positions go unfilled each year because of the housing shortage.
The Jackson Laboratory and MDI’s other large employers continue to cite employee housing as a major concern. If Bar Harbor’s zoning rules allowed construction of dormitory-style units, one of the hotel companies has said, that company could build those units and put the houses and apartments it has purchased back on the market. Town officials appeared to take that suggestion to heart, but zoning changes tend to take a long time and an amendment has not yet gone to voters.
It has also been proposed that employees and their families could, in the winter, “house-sit” homes owned by summer residents then move to “camps” in the summer when the owners arrive. But it would be disrespectful to ask year-round families to move twice a year, unless they’re doing it voluntarily to make money renting property they own.
The park’s proposal appears to be a better bet than either of these suggestions. The proposed site on federal land would make the project exempt from Bar Harbor zoning rules and likely unavailable for short-term rentals. And it would be seasonal housing for seasonal employees, hopefully freeing up apartments elsewhere for year-round residents.