Workforce housing

To the Editor:

There is lots of summer housing left vacant in winter that could be rented by Mount Desert Island workers from mid-September to the following mid-June. During the summer, these workers could be housed in summer camps on the island built by a nonprofit group such as Mount Desert 365 or by the Island Housing Trust.

In Northeast Harbor alone, dozens of winter homes have been sold to summer residents over the past 40 years, which has caused the winter population to drop from 900 to about 350, forcing most stores to close during those months and reducing the school population to a barely supportable level.

This idea follows a long tradition on the island of many winter residents who moved from town in the summer to camps they owned on the island and rented out their houses.

It also would allow them to send their children to Mount Desert Elementary, which badly needs more students and provides first-class education.

I envision building a campsite in MDI located near a lake with about 20-25 camps. It would have a playground for children and access to swimming. The camps each would have a heating stove as well as decent kitchen facilities. They could be built for $50,000 per camp. The camps also could be used during the winter on weekends and to store property that would not fit in the houses they rented.

Not all those commuting from off the island would be candidates for such a setup, but those younger families with lower salaries and with or without long-term plans to work on the island could be candidates.

The rents for both the camps and houses would have to be affordable to families earning $35,000-50,000. Spending 30 percent of their income, they could pay $875 to $1,250. That means a total budget of $65,000-94,000 for operating a 25-unit camp for a three-month period. That amount would hopefully cover operating costs but capital costs would probably have to be donated.

The camp would provide a wonderful opportunity for workers to get to know others in their age groups, which could prove helpful in many ways to them as they mature and also to the MDI community.

There are two major questions to resolve before this idea could proceed: Would enough workers be willing to take advantage of this opportunity? Are there sufficient summer residents willing to rent their houses during the winter season?

To answer the first question, a panel of MDI workers who are interested in pursuing the idea could help design the camp and the facilities they might use and interview other workers to gauge willingness to move from house to camp and back again.

Another survey needs to be done to see how many house owners would be willing to rent their homes from Sept. 15 to June 15. They would be compensated with rents of $875-$1,250 each month and have their houses looked after by tenants.

Some may be concerned that their tenants might hurt their property, but if all prospective tenants were interviewed by an employee of the camp builder group and if such employees would carry out some inspections during the winter, that could calm these fears.

Malcolm Peabody

Washington, D.C. and Northeast Harbor

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