Mount Desert Island towns are each being asked to contribute $5,000 toward the cost of an islandwide study of housing stock and housing needs which would be commissioned by the Island Housing Trust (IHT). Our communities must work together to appropriately address our housing challenges. A study like this is a necessary step. At least one of our planning boards has pointed to a similar study in Ellsworth in 2015, asking why we haven’t done this yet?
In one of the oldest (highest average age of residents) counties in the oldest state in the union, retaining young workers and young families is of vital importance.
It’s a chicken-and-egg problem: If there are not enough good jobs, there won’t be market pressure to develop (or convert) properties affordable to first-time homebuyers. But if it’s impossible for workers to find a place to live, employers won’t be able to locate or expand here. Add in the challenges posed by short-term and vacation rentals, the huge need for seasonal workforce housing, transportation and infrastructure — and it’s clear we have a long row to hoe.
About a third of the 360 respondents to a 2017 IHT survey of people who work on MDI said they live off-island. Seventy percent of those would prefer to live on MDI.
Most said the biggest barrier was not being able to find a home in their price range. Survey respondents said they were in the market for a home under $250,000. But the median listing price of homes currently for sale is $392,500, even after excluding properties listed for over $1 million.
As baby boomers retire, many are selling the houses where they raised their families and downsizing. That housing stock often is bought as second homes by summer residents, thus unavailable for the next generation of young families.
That employee survey was a start, but tackling some of the most important questions is a much bigger task. How much of our housing stock is owner-occupied? What are the choke points in our building permit and housing development pipeline? What zoning changes would encourage the most beneficial growth? What are we learning about the needs of seniors who hope to “age in place” at home?
Thanks to IHT for kick-starting this work, and to the towns and other groups willing to invest in the effort.