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North Haven Sustainable Housing 

Nearly every solution to the lack of housing requires the purchase or creation of new units, either for rent or for purchase. Additionally, most island housing organizations have included some legally binding restrictions on acquired or constructed property in order to ensure that it is both affordable and available for year-round use by islanders.

On North Haven, where North Haven Sustainable Housing has completed three projects, two homes were purchased on the open market and a third was constructed on donated land.

WILLIAM TREVASKIS

The house at 166 Main St. was renovated by North Haven Sustainable Housing and sold to an island family.


How It Works

North Haven Sustainable Housing takes ownership of real estate through purchase or charitable donation. The real estate, whether land, an existing home, or a renovation project, is used in one of three ways: a new affordable house is constructed and sold, the existing house is renovated and sold, or the property is renovated and maintained by NHSH as an affordable rental property for year-round residents. The properties sold to new owners have a deed restriction that requires the owner to either: (a) sell the home back to NHSH at a predetermined multiple of the original price or (b) sell to a year-round resident at an affordable price. (Sale prices are indexed to inflation.)

Key Factors

  • Attract capital. Whether in the form of donated land, donated money, state funding, or all three, these projects require significant investment.
  • Seek out housing experts. Genesis Community Loan Fund provided significant input into the drafting of deed restrictions, pursuit of state funding, models for financing, etc. 
  • Use volunteer labor as much as possible. A significant amount of volunteer labor has lowered the cost of construction and renovation of all three NHSH properties. Skilled contractors are needed for some aspects of construction, but volunteers to do landscaping, painting, and other non-technical jobs can keep the projects affordable.
  • Use skilled volunteers to manage projects. Organizing volunteers, conducting a bid process for construction, dealing with legal arrangements, raising money, and communicating about the progress of various projects are all time-consuming, labor-intensive tasks. NHSH has no paid staff and has relied on board members to tackle these roles.

Q & A with Hannah Pingree of NHSH

Q: What constitutes “affordable” housing?
A:The name of our organization is North Haven Sustainable Housing. We seek to create housing that is efficient, year-round, and affordable for a family working on the island. It isn’t necessarily low-income housing, but our rents are in the $600–700 range, which is typical for the island. We consider a house between $100,000–200,000 affordable for an island family, but we have also tried to make several ownership options available based on ability to pay, and it really was about providing decent, year-round housing.

Q: For units sold to homeowners, do you subsidize sale prices? How do you guarantee that properties will remain affordable?
A: We’ve subsidized sale prices to make them based on a homeowner’s ability to pay through fundraising. Our ability to raise funds allows this to happen. We use a deed restriction model to require the price of the house be limited in future sales to inflation and that the house remain year-round. We had used another model but it made homeowner financing very complicated.

Q: With rental housing, how do you judge eligibility for the units?
A: The purpose of our rental housing project was to create two affordable, year-round rents. Maine State Housing required our tenants be low - middle income to be eligible to move-in and we did verify that with our successful tenants. We had 5 or 6 families apply for our two units. We required that families had lived on the island for at least a year and were employed, and we scored them based on a few criteria including kids, community involvement and references from past landlords. It is tricky in a small town. It would be less so if we had more funding to make good projects like this happen!

Q: Why did you start working on weatherization and eldercare, when those aren’t necessarily “affordable housing” projects?
A: We consider weatherization certainly about making our island community and housing stock, more sustainable. And the eldercare project came to us, as a donor offered her house to our non-profit as a donation if we’d help develop an eldercare facility. The ability to keep our community members on the island for their final years is absolutely about creating a more sustainable and complete community - especially on an offshore island. And the jobs and vibrancy that will come from this central island facility is also important.

Q: Where does the funding for these projects come from?
A:We’ve been lucky enough along the way to get a few helpful and catalyzing grants from foundations and our biggest grant was from Maine State Housing, which made our rental housing project doable. In addition, much of our funding comes from our generous community through donations. The community has supported our weatherization work, our home projects, and our eldercare facility.

Q: With this experience under your belt, what advice would you give someone trying to do a similar project in their town?
A: I’d say go for it!  It is worthwhile, even in small rural communities, to try to make sure people can come home, move in, and remain. I think starting small with projects like weatherization and building storm windows inserts is a great way to make homes more sustainable at a low cost. Building housing and rentals is a much bigger can of worms. We worked closely with a mainland organization called the Genesis Community Loan Fund, which has been crucial in guiding us through the most complicated parts of the project. We’ve also relied on donated land, lots of volunteer hours, and an organization run by volunteers and the board - so keeping it grassroots is helpful.

Challenges

  • Raising money. “This isn’t easy work to fund,” says Hannah Pingree. “We’ve been lucky enough along the way to get a few helpful and catalyzing grants from foundations. In addition, much of our funding comes from our generous community through donations."

Additional Resources

Islesboro Affordable Property

Islesboro Affordable Property was founded in 1988, one of the oldest affordable housing groups on a Maine island. It is also one of the few with a paid staff person, executive director Rick Rogers. 

How It Works

Initially, IAP built an 8-unit project, the Ruthie James Subdivision. IAP retained ownership of the land in that project, but residents own the homes. After that, IAP constructed and sold a single-family home, subsidizing the purchase price to make it affordable. Since those projects, IAP has built or acquired homes for rent. In 26 years, IAP has built or acquired 13 homes.

 

Q & A with Rick Rogers, Director of Islesboro Affordable Property


Q: What constitutes “affordable” housing?
A: If you are asking what the housing market is like, the bottom of the market for something you might consider living in is around $150,000.  But these homes often require an extensive rehab and winterization which can bring the cost up to what a new prefab home costs.  While we are sensitive to “adding to the island inventory” at least in the recent past, building new has been the way to go.  Currently, there are many homes for sale on island and the prices have dropped dramatically.  So, going forward if IAP choses to acquire another property perhaps a purchase of an existing home and

Q: Where does the funding for these projects come from?
A: We use Camden National Bank and The Genesis Community Loan Fund extensively for our loans.  We use MaineHousing funds.  But, most of our money is privately fundraised.renovation will be the way to go.

Q: Has there been resistance to this work in your town?
A: No, though you sometimes hear some grumbling about those we select.  Especially from some of the single people but when a home comes up. We try to serve the most people we can with the asset and this by definition hurts the application of the single person with no children. The town is working on an initiative to address this.

Q: With this experience under your belt, what advice would you give someone trying to do a similar project in their town? 
A: Start small, know your market, know who you are targeting, know what level of assistance they will need, know what level of support they can personally provide and most importantly, watch your debt.

Key Factors

  • Attract capital. IAP has repeatedly partnered with Genesis Community Loan Fund and Camden National Bank for financing. It has also relied on MaineHousing funds.
  • Know your market. “Start small and know the people you are targeting, and know what level of assistance they will need,” says IAP executive Rick Rogers. “Most importantly, watch your debt.” 

Challenges 

  • Taking on too much debt. IAP’s original plan was to borrow money and have the income from rental units cover the payments. “The problems with that plan are that sometimes people don’t pay their rent, insurance has dramatically increased since purchase of some of these homes and taxes must be accounted for,” Rogers said. “In practice, the rents seldom pay for the mortgage, and they do nothing to cover the upkeep, taxes and insurance.  IAP must fundraise $13,000 per year to cover all of the expenses. Since I’ve taken over IAP, we have reduced our debt by $142,000.” 
  • Constant fundraising. “The biggest challenge is the constant need to fundraise,” says Rogers. That coupled with an aging donor base is the greatest concern for me.”

Additional Resources 

Monhegan Island Sustainable Community Association 

Monhegan Island Sustainable Community Association, or MISCA, is a combination of a land trust and an affordable housing organization. On Monhegan, where available land is at a premium, MISCA has largely attempted to renovate existing buildings, rather than build new ones, though it has purchased five houses and owns two buildable lots that it hopes to use in the future.

How It Works

Unlike some other organizations, which sell the affordable housing properties, MISCA retains ownership of the land itself and sells the houses on the land, usually for roughly half the price it would fetch on the open market. Buyers are required to be year-round residents of the island. Language in the deed requires that homes be sold at affordable prices forever. (The language includes the same cost-of-living increase used by the federal Department of Housing & Urban Development.)

Key Factors

  • Partner with mainland organization. Genesis Community Loan Fun has supported each of MISCA's efforts with technical expertise. 
  • Attract capital. Donated money is necessary for the purchase of the homes that MISCA converts to affordable houses. 

Q&A with Doug Boynton of MISCA

Q: When did you first become aware of this need in your community?
A: I became aware of this issue in the early 70s when I tried to find a permanent place to live on the island. Since then, some community members have rented their houses at below-market rates to help the community. As prices went up, few people were able to do this. I have personally bought and kept three small houses as year-round housing at affordable rates. It became clear to me 15 years ago that the system could not continue to work as it was too much burden on too few individuals. Also there was no guarantee that these houses would be affordable in perpetuity. I should add that there's a tradition of fishermen selling their homes to new fishermen at below-market rates. There was, however, no guarantee that this benefit would be passed on to another generation.

Q: What constitutes “affordable” housing on Monhegan?
A: Difficult question. About $150–200,000. Of course, some housing has to cost less than that. $400–500 monthly rents are in the mix.

Q: With this experience under your belt, what advice would you give someone trying to do a similar project in their town?
A: If the community is made aware that housing is essential to its future, then great things can be accomplished. In my wildest dreams I did not think we would make this much progress so quickly. Early on I was told my goals were not bold enough and I should raise my expectations. This was very good advice. Having an inshore partner like Genesis Community Loan Fund was also valuable.

Challenges

  • Underestimating the willingness of others to help. If you don’t ask enough of your supporters, you’ll never know what they were willing to give (whether time, money, sweat equity, etc.)
  • Burnout. These are long-term projects that can be physically and emotionally draining, especially for volunteers who have other jobs, families, etc.
  • Overexposure. When one community member remains at the forefront of an issue for too long, it can lead to donor and volunteer fatigue. Leadership in these projects has to change over time.

Additional Resources

Individualized technical and funding assistance

The Genesis Community Loan Fund is not an island housing group, but it has proved to be a critical resource for ten separate affordable housing efforts on Maine islands in the last 15 years. Genesis provides financing and technical assistance to affordable housing groups in Maine. With a loan pool of $14 million, it provides access to financing that is not available through mainstream financial channels either in partnership with banks or other funders or on its own.

“We think that if a household keeps housing expenses to 30% of its household income, that’s considered affordable,” said Genesis deputy director Liza Fleming-Ives. Genesis has had to educate a number of its mainland financing partners about the high cost of living for islanders. For many affordable housing projects, the threshold for eligibility is set at 80% of the area median income. For island projects, a more appropriate threshold has been about 120% of area median income.

Q&A with Liza Fleming-Ives, deputy director

Q: Which affordable housing models work best? 
A: Actually, each island situation is so different that it’s not as simple as “here are XYZ approaches, and the paths you can take.” Each community's needs and resources and challenges are so different that, while we have over the last 11 years been able to help them share resources and draw on each other’s documents as models, no one project has been like another.

What I would encourage is for people to pick up the phone. The technical assistance, hearing questions and concerns and helping determine the direction is something that Genesis does with the island organizations that work on housing. 

Q: What should people do before coming to you?
A: Directing people to their local housing organization, if it exists, is the first thing I would suggest. Ask, “Do you know that your island may have a housing organization and a lot of people who have dedicated time to this.?” Those are a place to bring questions. We are, of course, happy to field questions for anyone, especially for islands that don’t have those organizations. 

Q: Is there a typical timeline from idea to move-in?
A: It all really just depends on what the opportunity is. It usually happens over a period of years, not months. A lot of organizations are trying to position themselves well, raising funds in advance so they can take advantage of market opportunities when they arise. Especially on a place like Monhegan where land is so finite, there was pressure to snatch up anything on the market so it wasn't lost. They needed to be able to make quick decisions about new opportunities. 

Q: Are there lessons you can share about things that haven’t worked out?
A: Consistency of leadership is really important, and the focus behind a single project. Where we’ve had challenges is where there is a division in a board in the middle of a project and you just lose momentum. It’s important to have consistent leadership that can see it through.

All but one organization is led by volunteers, and it can be challenging to make sure the volunteers are in agreement that the project moving forward is the most important focus of their time. I can think of one project that didn’t go forward because the board couldn’t decide where the focus of the organization should be. 

Q: Do you remain involved after the launch?
A: We help out where it’s needed, but don’t get involved in the management of housing. We are most active in doing feasibility, planning, budgeting, gathering resources, finances and funding… but once it gets to the management phase we are happy to hear from folks but there isn’t an active role we play. 

Q:What about people not in Maine? Are there organizations like yours?
A: Well, in the past year we’ve had conversations with folks on Cuttyhunk Island (MA) and others. While we can't provide financing or formal technical assistance outside of Maine, we are happy to take phone calls. I don’t know off the top of my head, but we are part of an industry that is over 1000 organizations across the country. It’s not that groups like this don’t exist elsewhere. But we are happy to share models and offer to advise people. 

Resources

Anyone who is considering an affordable housing project is invited to contact Genesis Fund staff. Liza is available at liza@genesisfund.org or (207) 844-2035.