As islanders know, finding affordable and energy-efficient year-round housing is a challenge. On October 16, representatives from The Genesis Community Loan Fund, the Maine Housing Affordable Housing Coalition, the Island Institute and Islesboro Affordable Property hosted staff of MaineHousing to tour Islesboro and discuss the challenges of creating sustainable island affordable housing and to also celebrate some successes.

The visit took place in wake of a $30 million, green, affordable housing bond approved this past June.

The initiative seeks to preserve and create jobs for Maine workers and improve Maine’s housing stock through a mix of new construction, renovation, replacement and weatherization work. Designed with flexibility around project scope and income guidelines, the bond bill can increase the supply of affordable, energy-efficient homes that are convenient to jobs and services in both large and small communities.

Rick Rogers, Executive Director of Islesboro Affordable Property (IAP), and Arch Gillies, Board Member of IAP, hosted a site tour of the organization’s 12 housing units.

The tour included four rental homes, one acquired within the past few months, and IAP’s first major project, the Ruthie James Subdivision. Developed in the early 1990’s Ruthie James is an eight-home subdivision providing home ownership. Residents own their homes and improvements and lease the land from IAP.

Steve Miller, a former IAP Board member, described the challenges of funding this project and noted that the Maine State Housing Authority provided much needed pre-development funds.

The current IAP focus is on development of a 22-acre parcel of land acquired from the town of Islesboro in 2005. The goal is to create a 12-unit, energy efficient subdivision that is affordable for year-round islanders.

During the tour, the group discussed the cost of living on islands as well transportation barriers. IAP, like other island housing groups, has found that the finite amount of land coupled with the desirability of island land and homes on the second home market, drives up housing costs beyond the means of many year-round islanders.

Genesis staff, having worked with island and remote coastal communities, noted that the scale of affordable housing work on islands is often smaller than on the mainland. While this is appropriate and preferable for a small island community, the smaller scale combined with higher construction costs present a funding challenge.

Most housing funding programs target large building projects for people of very modest income. Bill Floyd, Executive Director of Genesis, noted that islands take on one or two projects at a time while many funding mechanisms address far larger projects. Island housing groups work at this level to create housing for working islanders to allow them to remain in the community.

The issue of scale is compounded by what some call the “island surcharge” for transportation, heating fuel, and food costs. This surcharge translates to an island cost of living of approximately 25 percent or 30 percent more than mainland living. As a result, islanders need more income to cover basic needs. Most housing programs use income guidelines to address affordable housing needs that do not account for the higher costs of island living.

Over lunch, hosted by island residents Sandy Oliver and Jamie MacMillan, the group discussed affordable housing efforts taking place on other islands.
On Peaks Island, HOMESTART is exploring home ownership opportunities and rental opportunities for islanders. The Town of Long Island Year Round Housing Committee has set aside some town land for a homestead program designed for islanders to lease the land from the town and build their own home on that land.

The Chebeague Island Community Association’s Housing Committee has purchased a home with the assistance of Genesis and the Islands Challenge Fund. The home has served as a rental property for the past two years.

Erin Cooperrider, development director of Community Housing of Maine, spoke about a six unit affordable rental building renovation underway on Vinalhaven. This project, located in the village center, will offer rental rates set to meet community needs. Community Housing of Maine secured funding through Genesis Fund, MaineHousing, the Federal Home Loan Bank, the Island Institute and an Islands Challenge Fund grant matched by the community.

At the end of the visit, MaineHousing staff noted that the conversation was helpful to place island housing issues in context. Over the next few months, MaineHousing staff will be working to program the bond money. With no income targeting specified; the law calls for flexibility in income qualifications and project size allowing the program too meet the needs of rural and island communities. Programs and associated funding will be available after July of 2010.

Mary K. Terry is the Island Institute’s Casco Bay Affordable Housing Fellow.