Only three years ago, an all-volunteer group on North Haven decided to tackle the lack of affordable-housing on the island, and approached the Genesis Community Housing Fund in Damariscotta for assistance in becoming an incorporated nonprofit organization. Today, a new, energy-efficient home is housing a local teacher and her husband and the North Haven Sustainable Housing (NHSH) group is looking towards its next project.

“We’ve got to do it again and again to prove it’s a viable project,” says Charlie Pingree, a leading member of the organization who catalyzed the effort by donating a house lot. “We want to see our brand new school filled, and the island remain vibrant.”

The discussion about affordable housing came up at North Haven Futures Group meetings for years, and an attempt to do a cluster development of affordable housing failed to garner town support a few years ago. As in many island projects, it took a few dedicated individuals to focus specifically on the issue, devise a clear project, and locate available resources to turn conversation into reality.

“It seemed like we could talk forever about it if somebody didn’t do something. I had the property and donated it, and the small group was enthusiastic about working through all the problems and raising the money,” said Pingree.

In 2005, North Haven was reassessed and roadside property values jumped to $50,000 per acre, a price that shocked residents and underscored the need for affordable housing on the island.

Because of such high land values, the NHSH is using a land-lease model: it retains ownership of the land through a 99-year lease, removing it from the property value calculation. This approach makes the property affordable for a homeowner and keeps NHSH involved with the property in order to keep it affordable and from being “flipped.”

“We want to give the owner a sense of ownership without losing control over the longevity of the value package,” said Bill Bartovics, NHSH board member. “Thankfully we found a teacher and her husband who seem to be very comfortable with this arrangement.”

As for the future, the board of the NHSH envisions creating affordable units from some of the existing properties on the island, as there are no building lots for sale, and because the building project “took a whole lot of energy,” said Pingree.

The organization is also looking to build upon its success. “Affordable housing is on people’s radar,” he said. “People don’t know what to make of the organization and the idea of a 99-year lease. But, am I optimistic? Yes, I am…we are so small, just a few people, and everybody in this town has a lot of different jobs and we kind of get spread thin…but, as time goes by, it will be more and more obvious how important it [affordable housing] is to ensuring a year-round community. Now we have a model, it will continue on. We just have to reach out to the community and find some more willing volunteers.”