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December 3, 2018

Nonprofits buy property for affordable housing in Bar Harbor

Island Housing Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust have jointly acquired 60 acres on Mount Desert Island, with half to be used to build workforce-affordable housing.

The Mount Desert Islander reported that Maine Coast Heritage Trust will retain half for conservation and Island Housing Trust plans to build up to 11 homes on the remainder.

“With the acquisition, we will be looking to get an estimate of what the cost will be to put in the infrastructure,” Marla O’Byrne, executive director of Island Housing Trust, told the newspaper.

Workforce housing is much needed in Bar Harbor, where the affordable-home market of yesteryear has been overwhelmed by online rental markets like Airbnb.

Island Housing Trust, a nonprofit that promotes workforce housing on Mount Desert Island, in 2017 obtained an option to purchase the 30 acres for what’s expected to be its largest development since the organization was founded in 1989. 

The problem of workforce housing is endemic in other communities around MDI. Last year, elected officials around Mount Desert Island identified the need for more affordable, year-round housing as a top issue. At that time, the Mount Desert Islander reported that an Island Housing Trust survey found that 70% of people working on MDI live off-island; and that many of those people could afford houses in the $250,000 range, but the average cost of a house in Bar Harbor is $400,000.

Acadia National Park is also looking at the issue. In September, the Islander reported that park officials are exploring whether to enter into a public-private partnership for the purpose of developing affordable housing for seasonal park employees.

The housing shortage on Mount Desert Island is exacerbated by several factors. There's no development on national park grounds, including more than 30,000 acres on MDI. There are a large number of seasonal houses, used for a few weeks or months of the year. Many of the seasonal places that were once offered for off-season rentals are now commanding more money on Airbnb, which has some 900 listings on MDI.

What few houses are available on the island are unable to handle year-round workers from Jackson Lab, Mount Desert Island Biological Labs, College of the Atlantic and Mount Desert Island Hospital, among other institutions.

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