Enhancing Local Capacity & Leadership: Challenges & Examples
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.
Connecting Elders with Resources
As anyone with aging parents or grandparents knows, growing older creates challenges for everything from cooking healthy meals and shoveling the steps to remembering medications or taking blood samples. Island residents have the added challenges of long ferry rides and few medical or transportation resources. Many elder islanders end up moving to an assisted living facility on the mainland, removed from their family and lifelong home. However, eldercare services at a variety of levels, from a weekly ride to the grocery store all the way to residential care homes, can enable islanders to age in place, staying close to friends and family in their home community.
Enabling Community Leadership
Island and remote coastal communities face many challenges. Decreasing year-round resident populations threaten the diversity of human capital that make isolated communities viable. Limited access to resources, high cost of living, and limited economic opportunities all provide particular challenges as well. However, despite their small populations, volunteer participation is much higher per capita in island communities, indicating a high level of social capital. Critically, a single individual can have a greater impact because the populations are small and invested.
Offering Educational Support
Islands and rural communities can be severely limited in their educational systems. Many islands have very few school children, and often only one or two teachers. Finding the time and resources to provide children with the educational and social experiences they need can be a challenge.