News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, April 4, 2019
Workforce Housing strives to maintain community

by Faith DeAmbrose

In a community, a house is much more than a dwelling. That is the message that Island Workforce Housing, Inc., a newly formed nonprofit aimed at tackling the issue of affordable housing for a year-round, local workforce, is trying to convey.

Those that live in a community support it, serving on the fire department or working seasonal jobs. Without affordable housing, said Mike Wood, Chairman of Island Workforce Housing, a community loses its ability to retain young families and entry-level workers, which in turn makes it difficult to support a school system, find volunteers and ensure that services (such as firefighters, plumbers, and hospitality workers) are there for those who need them.

For the last 10 months, a steering committee consisting of Wood, Linda Campbell, Peter Roth, Jim Fisher and John Steed along with more than a dozen other volunteers have spoken to residents, business owners, employees living off-island, and renters. They have compiled information and anecdotal accounts related to living and working on the island (or not). The group has surveyed various segments of the population and currently is raising funds to hire a consultant who will quantify data associated with housing stock and community needs. The data will then drive the future work of IWH, said Wood. “Do we need year-round housing, or seasonal housing? Do we need housing for families or one-bedroom studios?,” asked Wood, who also wrote an op-ed in this issue. See page 4.

According to Wood, there are a number of societal factors such as skyrocketing real estate costs which are prohibitive to young families and entry-level workers and the emergence of short-term rentals, such as Airbnb which is diverting housing stock from such uses. “A quick scan shows about 300 Airbnb listings on the island,” he added.

The idea that employees of island businesses can’t afford to live on the island, said Wood, is detrimental to “a vibrant and sustainable community” because they do not participate. “They come to work and leave and go be part of another community. If we can’t slow it down or stop it, we’ll lose it.”

Island Workforce Housing has been granted nonprofit status in Maine, and is awaiting a federal designation. In the meantime, said Wood, Island Heritage Trust is the group’s fiscal sponsor and all donations made to the group are tax deductible.

For more information about making a donation, contact Wood or send a check made out to Island Heritage Trust (with Island Workforce Housing in the memo) line to Wood at P.O. Box 235, Deer Isle, ME 04627.

Editor’s note: This story was corrected to update donation information.