Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 25, 2019
Island Workforce Housing releases ‘Housing Needs’ report
Island Workforce Housing, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the workforce housing needs of the Deer Isle-Stonington community, recently announced the release of a Housing Needs Analysis and Assessment completed by Camoin Associates, a national economic development consulting firm. The study concludes that up to 85 units of year-round, rental housing are needed on the island to satisfy the needs of two constituents already working on the island: those who are priced off the island and forced to commute to the island to work, and those who are currently on-island, but under-housed, excessively rent-burdened, or forced to move from place to place throughout the year due to the lack of year-round rental housing they can afford.
The study underscores how the lack of available workforce housing hurts the Deer Isle-Stonington community in many ways. Employers have great difficulty attracting and retaining employees who can’t find housing on the island. Workers who work on the island but live off-island don’t enroll their children in local schools, don’t buy groceries and patronize local businesses, and tend not to engage in the community, volunteer for the ambulance corps or volunteer fire departments. In short, the lack of good quality workforce housing that can help attract and retain new residents is a big reason the island is losing population, the schools are struggling with low enrollment, and local businesses are struggling due to reduced year-round demand for goods and services.
Mike Wood, the Chair of Island Workforce Housing’s Board of Directors, stressed how critical it is for the community to come together to address this issue: “The lack of workforce housing will change our community forever if we do not do everything we can to reverse the trend of young people leaving the island,” he said in a news release. “Our schools are already being seriously impacted by the decreasing number of young families on the island, and our businesses and school department are struggling to attract and retain talent. Addressing the lack of workforce housing is possibly the single greatest thing this community can do to improve its future.”
The Camoin report analyzed data from the census, the American Community Survey, and private demographic data services in order to fully understand the population, housing, and commuting trends affecting Deer Isle-Stonington. Key points called out in the report include the following:
The year-round housing stock in Deer Isle-Stonington is shrinking;
Only 15% of housing units on the islands are year-round rentals;
The island population is aging at a significantly higher rate than surrounding communities;
The year-round island population is shrinking, particularly for those under 44;
The housing stock is aging, and consists mostly of expensive-to-maintain single family houses;
Lack of available housing makes it difficult for employers to attract and retain workers;
The dramatic increase in short-term vacation rentals (now 475 listings) constricts the supply of year-round rental housing.
To address the need underscored by Camoin’s report, Island Workforce Housing’s Steering Committee and Board is preparing a Strategic Plan to address this challenge. It is anticipated that the Strategic Plan will call for development of new, high-quality and energy-efficient homes that will be affordable to the island workforce. Ideally these homes would be constructed in small clusters of 8-12 units each, possibly in a duplex style.
Such an initiative will require raising a substantial amount of money from foundations, banks, and individuals, as the rents affordable to younger workers in the Deer Isle-Stonington workforce alone cover only one-quarter of the cost of developing permanent, high quality housing. IWH hopes to have its Strategic Plan drafted and available for comment later this summer.
IWH is also seeking donations of easily accessible and buildable land to support its efforts, and asks that interested parties contact Mike Wood if they have an interest in a charitable contribution of land.