Maine State Housing Authority’s recent Notice to Proceed to the Isle au Haut Community Development Corporation (ICDC) brings its island-housing funding commitment to $1.6 million. Isle au Haut, with a year-round population of about 50, is the smallest community thus far to receive notice of a $350,000 allocation. Three other island-housing nonprofits have each received notices for $350,000: North Haven Sustainable Housing (NHSH), Islesboro Affordable Property (IAP), and the Chebeague Island Community Association (CICA). $200,000 has been set aside for Vinalhaven to help finish a six-unit apartment. (See “Construction begins on affordable townhouses on Vinalhaven,” Feb-March 2011). With three additional applications in the works the program means up to 20 new homes-at least two each-for eight islands.

With lack of affordable housing being a major barrier to moving to island communities, the availability of year-round rental homes is critical to the sustainability of these small towns. On several islands, working families find alternative places to live every summer when homeowners return, while many commute to the islands for work when they would rather live there. Having these families become more permanent threads of the community fabric means a more sustainable future for the islands to which they are committed.

North Haven is about to begin the construction process. According to NHSH Treasurer Joe Stone, they quickly raised the $85,000 needed in percentage matching funds for a total budget of $435,000. NHSH has also purchased the duplex in need of renovations with a $190,000 Genesis loan. Construction will begin when NHSH secures a local contractor who will keep renovation within budget and state guidelines. MaineHousing funds are dispersed when budgets are fully met and systems are in place to start building.

Adam Krea, deputy diretcor of MaineHousing,  says that the organization is as flexible as possible in administering the funding to islands with unique community needs and the added cost of moving materials over ocean. For example, the state legislature allocated this funding for multi-family rental units, which often means apartments. For islands, this was brought down to just two units as a minimum condition to funding. “All islands are a little bit different,” Krea explains. On Isle au Haut, where zoning ordinances do not permit  duplexes, the town donated two separate properties, contributions that allow ICDC to establish the two family units required to receive grant moneys. On Chebeague Island, CICA plans to put up an
energy-efficient manufactured duplex on land donated by the town. And on Islesboro, IAP will build two separate homes on parcels of land
donated by private citizens. Once built, the two new Islesboro homes will bring IAP’s rental stock to 13 (a 14th home has been sold). While the MaineHousing grant provides the cornerstone of funding, additional sources are contributing to these eight new homes, including private cash and
in-kind donations.

In addition to 20 percent matching funds and/or in-kind contributions, and at least two housing units, a third condition to the funding is that homes be rented for at least 15 years before sold. Says Krea, “Any funky way that it works within the guidelines of the funds is fine,” citing the possibility of a renting-to-own arrangement being set up with qualified tenants.

Krea explains, “Thanks really go to the state legislature for giving MaineHousing the resources to collaborate with the islands and be flexible on how we work with the islands. MaineHousing usually has a cap on government subsidies so as to get more bangs for the buck, but we adjusted that cap for islands where things cost more.”

Krea also credits Genesis Community Loan Fund (GCLF) staff for much of the success in allocating the grants, “Our program has Genesis as a contact for all islands and they brought them together in a great collaborative process.” Krea adds that MaineHousing has only $400,000 left in related grant money, but is sourcing additional funds in hopes that more island applications can be awarded. According to Liza Fleming-Ives, GCLF’s Associate Director, volunteers from the Monehegan Island Sustainable Community Association, Peaks’ Home Start, and Long Island’s Year-Round Housing Corporation are working on applications.

Fleming-Ives observes, “The most rewarding part of assisting the islands with the housing grants has been the opportunity to support the work of incredible island people who are dedicated to improving and sustaining their treasured island communities.”

Kate Taylor is a freelance writer living on North Haven.