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June 1, 2018

Stonington and Deer Isle confront lack of affordable housing

Deer Isle and Stonington have reconvened the dormant Island Community Housing group to address affordable workforce housing issues for young working families who are finding themselves priced out of the island's housing market.

Island Advantages reported the issue has gotten worse as existing housing shifts from year-round to seasonal or short-term rentals. A study found Deer Isle is one of the least affordable communities in Maine.

"I work on the island but live in Surry," said Stonington native Pat Shepard, citing the cost of island housing.

Affordable housing is considered key to sustainable island populations.

Great Cranberry Island has been addressing similar issues through its nonprofit Cranberry Isles Realty Trust, which developed and owns five affordable rental units. Great Cranberry was one of seven islands that shared a 2010 allotment of $2.7 million earmarked by the state for affordable, energy-efficient new construction, renovation and replacement housing.

The housing problem is not new for Maine's island communities.

In the 1980s, the nonprofit Frenchboro Future Development Corp. received federal funding and a donation of 35 acres. The nonprofit built seven rental houses and developed five lots designated for affordable house construction. In the 1990s, the Isle au Haut Community Development Corp. built three affordable rental homes. Since 2002, the Monhegan Island Sustainable Community Association, among its initiatives, has developed five homes and converted two apartments into affordable condos for year-round residents. Islesboro, Peaks Island, Vinalhaven, Chebeague and North Haven have obtained funding and assistance from a variety of coastal organizations to develop affordable housing options. Some target seniors, while others aim to attract young families to bolster island populations.

According to The Island Institute, many Maine islands continue to experience a shortage of affordable, year-round housing. This includes affordably priced homes for sale and rental units, especially those available for a full year rather than only in off-peak seasons.

The impact is making it much more difficult for the island communities to attract and retain families — particularly young residents of islands as they become adults — creating a significant barrier to economic sustainability.

The Island Institute notes in its news release that it's extremely difficult to find qualified applicants for year-round positions on Maine's islands due to the lack of affordable housing.

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