The need for workforce housing in Maine’s island and remote coastal communities has never been greater. This statement may seem startling, given the news that the housing market has stalled and prices are dropping. How in this market can we still have a need for workforce housing?

Housing in Maine’s island and remote coastal communities remains unaffordable to the average working family despite recent real estate trends-the average island family income can only afford one half of the average-priced home on an island, and the trend is not much better in our remote coastal communities.

Preliminary findings of a report that the Island Institute commissioned from Maine based Planning Decisions are striking.  In 1970, the total state valuation per housing unit on Maine’s islands was just under $16,000 compared to the state average of $22,400.

By 2007, this valuation in island communities had risen to nearly $490,000 compared to a state average of $240,000. On the Penobscot Bay Islands, it had risen to $620,000.

Over the last 40 years the valuation of Downeast islands increased 4,409 percent, the valuation of Penobscot Bay Islands increased 5,589 percent and, the valuation Casco Bay Islands increased 3,553 percent.

Maine’s overall housing valuations increased 2,373 percent over the same period-a reminder that this issue reaches far beyond the coast and islands.

Today, the total value of all taxable property per housing unit on islands is between 48 percent and 156 percent above the state average-this despite the relative absence of commercial and industrial properties in these communities. The islands are, in this way, a Gold Coast.

There are plenty of houses in these communities. In fact, there are 1.2 houses per person on average. While this presents rental options for some people, these rentals are not year-round, requiring those people who are interested in transitioning into island and remote communities to move upwards of three times in a year to piece their housing needs together.

Beyond the sheer magnitude of the increase in valuation and the volume of housing per resident, these numbers are reminded that Maine’s islands are part of a global real estate market. As a result, it is increasingly difficult to find places for young working families to find year-round rental housing-the basis for enabling people to transition to Maine’s island and remote coastal communities. Beyond transition, the ability to afford a first home is also significantly impacted.

Recognizing the magnitude of the issue, this past session the state bonded $30 million to support the development of energy efficient housing in Maine. The islands and remote coastal communities stand to benefit significantly from this legislation and will be engaged over the coming year through the Island Institute and the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition in how this funding is programmed by the Maine State Housing Authority.

Rob Snyder is Vice President of Programs at the Island Institute and a Steering Committee Member of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition.