How a city on the island of Maine is fighting the housing crisis

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STONINGTON, Maine – Mike McLain cares about Stonington. As an employee of the public works department, he helps maintain the city and loves the people he meets here.

But the Bangor resident can’t see himself escaping his 1.5-hour commute anytime soon.

“I looked for properties to rent, but there aren’t many here. Some places cost around $ 200,000 [to buy] for a first-time buyer. Some places are inaccessible because they are too run down, ”said McLain, 27. “Whatever I do here will be expensive. “

That’s why a nonprofit, Island Workforce Housing, plans to build at least 10 apartments over the next year, with the goal of eventually building 30 units. With Deer Isle and Stonington facing an estimated shortage of affordable housing at 85 units, the project will go a long way in saving money and making problems for island businesses worse, said Henry Teverow, director of economic development for Stonington.

“We’re trying to foster a healthier community and economy year round,” said Teverow, a member of Island Workforce, who was formed in 2018 to address what the group calls the “severe” housing shortage for the city. island workforce.

“Housing, I think, is one of the most important parts of the puzzle that we have to solve to put our people and our economy all year round where they should be again,” he added.

Deer Isle’s situation is reminiscent of Bar Harbor. Both see an increase in seasonal housing driven by the profitability of renting to tourists, and a subsequent loss of year-round housing and people to live there.

From 1990 to 2017, the number of year-round units in Deer Isle and Stonington decreased by 73, while the number of seasonal units increased by 223, from 1,130 to 1,353. The seasonal share of the housing stock – including vacation rentals and owner-occupied seasonal homes – fell from 40% to 46% over that period, according to a study funded by the group.

This has contributed to a shortage of year round residents in Deer Isle and Stonington. Between 1990 and 2017, both saw a 4% decrease in that population, from 3,081 to 2,969, with Stonington’s year-round population declining 38% from 1,660 to 1,032, according to study.

Island businesses compensate for the loss of year-round workers and housing costly. An island plumbing company bought a van to help bring in workers from the mainland. A lobster processing company has purchased housing for its workforce, Teverow said.

The Stonington municipal government hired McLain, at $ 17.50 an hour, in part because of the lack of available workers on the island, said his boss, public works foreman Shaun Eaton. The lack of local labor became particularly evident during last week’s windstorm.

Fallen trees left McLain stranded on the road for an extra hour and a half on his way to work – a struggle he wouldn’t have had to endure had he lived in the city, McLain said. Eaton would probably live off the island as well, but he bought his father a house.

“Residents cannot afford to buy housing here. It’s too expensive and doesn’t target young people who grew up here and want to stay here, ”Eaton said. “Rents are really hard to come by and, while you can find one, it’s very expensive.

While Island Workforce Housing wants to build 10 units next year, it may take years to do so. The group must raise $ 600,000 to buy 43 acres on Oliver’s Pond near Sunset Crossroad and build the ten units, Teverow said.

McLain, who bought an additional vehicle to save money on commutes, a gas-stingy 1996 Toyota Avalon, said he hopes he can find a place to live in the city. He and his fiancee have four children, so he will need a spacious place.

“I plan to stay here for quite a while,” he said.


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