Solutions Library

Monhegan Island Sustainable Community Association

Addressing Affordable Housing

On many Maine islands, there is 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 effect of this lack of housing is to make attracting and retaining families—and especially the young residents of islands as they become adults—much more difficult. The lack of housing also provides a significant barrier to economic activity. It’s extremely difficult to find qualified applicants for year-round positions (e.g. school teachers or town employees) or even for summer positions (restaurant staff, sternmen for lobster boats, etc.) without affordable, comfortable housing units in which those employees can live. In the long run, an inability to offer quality housing to school teachers and to the young families that provide island schools with new students could be an existential threat to the year-round nature of many of these communities. Recognizing the significance of the problem, several islands have launched organizations to address this issue. They have used a combination of philanthropic donations, state funds, and sweat equity to create housing units appropriate to their communities. But in nearly all cases, there remains a significant need for more housing.

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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

Originally Published March 2016

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