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Updated: January 5, 2022

Gift from hotel group to help MDI housing trust build affordable homes

COURTESY / ISLAND HOUSING TRUST Seen here is a conceptual rendering of the proposed Jones Marsh affordable housing development.

A $100,000 donation from a prominent hotel group on Mount Desert Island will help a housing trust complete a 10-home affordable housing neighborhood on the outskirts of Bar Harbor.

The Witham Family Hotels Charitable Fund donated the money to the Island Housing Trust in support of the organization’s $3.5 million capital campaign, called Coming Home: Island Housing Trust’s Campaign for Mount Desert Island.  

The trust promotes viable, year-round island communities by advancing permanent workforce housing on Mount Desert Island. 

The campaign is poised to raise $3.5 million to support the completion of the 10-home Jones Marsh neighborhood; increase funding for its Home Ownership Assistance Program, which provides down payment assistance to qualified buyers; and create an Opportunities Fund that will allow the trust to act quickly when new opportunities arise to acquire land or affordable homes, according to a news release.

The campaign has raised over $2.8 million in gifts and pledges toward its goal. The Witham gift, which was matched by an anonymous donor to the trust, helped bring the campaign to a close by the end of 2021.

The Witham fund is helmed by siblings David, Christine and Anne Witham.

“The ability of the island to house a year-round community with a blend of generations is quickly eroding,” David Witham said in the release. “We strongly believe in and support IHT’s mission. They are turning the tide, getting families back on the island and kids back in our schools — for the health of the community as a whole.”

Marla O’Byrne, executive director of Island Housing Trust, said the donation will help the trust meet its challenge grant and will further the organization’s mission to provide more year-round housing opportunities on MDI. 

The trust announced in November that it received the $400,000 challenge grant from an anonymous donor to boost its plans for new affordable housing on Mount Desert Island. Bar Harbor and other towns on the island grapple with the conversion of homes to vacation rentals, resulting in a shortage of affordable, year-round housing.

The grant matches dollar-for-dollar all donations received through the end of 2021 to Coming Home: Island Housing Trust’s Campaign for Mount Desert Island.

“We are extremely grateful for this gift, and for the growing partnership between Witham Family Hotels and IHT,” she said.

Jones Marsh is planned as a year-round neighborhood of 10 energy-efficient homes on approximately seven acres near the head of Mount Desert Island. It will include two duplexes to provide a range of price points for ownership. The expected project cost is $1.5 million. 

The goal is to have the first home ready to place by early this coming summer. The trust has been working with Showcase Homes in Brewer to design energy-efficient modular homes — six single-family houses, and two duplex buildings with four units total.

The development is a cluster development on a 30-acre lot in a village called Town Hill, on Bar Harbor’s outskirts. Road frontage is on Route 3, a primary corridor to the west side of Mount Desert Island.

According to the trust’s website, a lack of affordable, year-round housing on MDI was already critical before the pandemic. The problem was exacerbated by a spike in out-of-state residents purchasing homes in Maine. The housing shortage affects businesses, with large employers such as MDI Hospital and Jackson Laboratory saying that the lack of affordable housing affects recruitment and long-term employment. 

Witham Family Hotels Charitable Fund was established in 2017 to carry on the philanthropic legacy of the Witham siblings’ father, hotelier David J. Witham, who died in 2017, according to his obituary. The fund is dedicated to supporting local and regional organizations who provide valuable charitable services to the community. Monetary support of the fund is provided by Witham Family Hotels, a Maine hospitality company based in the Acadia National Park area.

Since 2003, Island Housing Trust has completed 48 homeownership projects serving 143 adults and children on Mount Desert Island. The trust holds covenants on 37 homes, and has overseen the successful resale of several of these properties at below market rate to qualified households working on the island. 

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