Residents of eight islands met at the Island Institute on Sept. 12 to discuss the need for sustained affordable housing initiatives in their communities. The workshop, which was a follow-on to the larger Affordable Coast meeting of October 2002, was convened in order to discuss affordable housing problems and solutions in greater detail, and included islanders from Peaks Island, Chebeague, Great Cranberry, Islesford, Islesboro, Monhegan, Vinalhaven and North Haven as well as a representative of the Genesis Community Loan Fund, an affordable housing organization that recently created a program geared specifically towards Maine islands.

Despite the differences in the populations and economies of the islands, several common issues arose from the discussion. Most notable was the concern that state or federal definitions of “low income” or “affordability” – on which many housing assistance programs depend – aren’t relevant for island communities, where finite housing stocks and skyrocketing property values mean that even some middle-income residents cannot afford to buy or build a home. Workshop participants suggested that a comprehensive cost of living study be conducted, comparing all economic aspects of island life with that of similar-sized mainland towns. Such a study could help make the case that island communities merit special consideration with respect to affordable housing.

Other common problems included aging populations, an increase in the number of retirees, a shift in housing stock from year-round to seasonal, declining school populations, limited economic opportunities and above all, rising property values.

“Peaks used to be thought of as the affordable Casco Bay island,” said Peaks resident Marjorie Phyfe. “That changed so quickly that I think a lot of people were caught off guard.”

Phyfe added that an influx of new residents, many of whom commute into Portland, has pushed property values to levels unaffordable to other island families, and that affordable housing is needed to preserve the diversity of population that has traditionally been central to Peaks character. The current Peaks housing stock, she said, is approximately half seasonal and half year-round.

Representatives of three island nonprofit organizations devoted to affordable housing attended: the Cranberry Isles Realty Trust (CIRT), the Monhegan Island Sustainable Community Association (MISCA), and Islesboro Affordable Property (IAF). Garrett Martin of Genesis spent much of the meeting fielding questions from islanders, many of whom are preparing to initiate affordable housing programs in their own communities.

For a full summary of the meeting, including affordable housing resources and links, contact Nathan Michaud at the Island Institute (207-594-9209, or