Note: Normally, today would be a Film Friday post, but tomorrow is town meeting and I didn’t have a chance to get this post finished up last night, so I’m sharing it tonight before tomorrow’s big vote. Film Friday will resume next week.
Every spring, in old-fashioned small-town New England style, the entire town packs into the high school auditorium to vote on everything from tax and finances, to bylaws and zoning. This year is big with several exciting, but also controversial, issues including the addition of a windmill at the landfill and — what Chris and I are most excited about — funding for a new affordable housing community.
I’ve not made a secret of the fact that we are on a tight budget and that we made sacrifices to move out to Nantucket. Both Chris and I believe 100% that each and every sacrifice we have made is worth it because we so very muchvalue having me at home with Nora. I’ve also mentioned here and there that, while we love Nantucket and want it to be our permanent home, it can be discouraging to know that if we live here, we will likely never own a home.
Even with a 30% drop in housing costs, the median home price on Nantucket is around $800,000, which requires an income of just over $200,000 per year to be affordable. The median income on Nantucket is $103,000. There is a $100,000 gap between what people need to earn in order to afford to buy a home and what people do earn, said Gisele Gauthier, Director of Housing Development at the Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) in a recent interview on The Point. Multiple housing studies have found Nantucket to be lacking in both affordable ownership and year-round rental opportunities.
When we came to Nantucket on a windy April weekend nearly two years ago to look at houses, we marveled at the magic of the island. We were nearly giddy with excitement as we discussed the future we had only fantasized about two years before that. And then reality hit. After a day spent house hunting we were wondering if Chris could even accept the job at the Brotherhood, because we didn’t think we could find a place that would both fit us and that we could afford. Luckily, we found our current house,
a 750 sq foot one bedroom, one bath house close enough to town that we could reasonably expect to only have one car (we knew we wouldn’t be able to afford two payments on one income). At the time I felt like I was settling. We had to sell lots and lots of furniture and things at a huge loss because we didn’t have the place to put them. We were moving from a brand new three bedroom, two bath home with a garage on an acreage in the country to a super small, old and in need of work house that shared a yard with a summer rental — and we were paying $100 extra dollars per month. I felt like we were settling, but it was worth it, because we were moving to a beautiful place and because, most importantly, I was going to finally get to spend my days with Nora. And I figured that this would only be a temporary move, that once we moved out here we would be able to find a better rental. How wrong I was.
After two years of regularly checking the rental listings, I now know just how lucky we are. Our house has a small room off the living room that we were able to turn into a room for Nora, which means we are sneaking two bedrooms out of something that rents at a one-bedroom rate. Every single two bedroom listing I have seen, in two years, is at least $100 more per month than is ours, and they average $1800/month. Three bedrooms, which we will need eventually, are all over $2000/month. I now know that if we had not found this house, we probably would not have been able to afford to live on Nantucket, even with our bare bones budgeting. I also know that unless something dramatically changes with our income or housing options, sooner rather than later the cost of living will force us to move off island.
We don’t want that to happen. We want Nora to grow up here and we want to spend our rocking chair days here. But with little-to-no hope of buying and a ticking clock on being able to afford an appropriate rental, it seemed inevitable. Until last fall. Last fall, Chris and I were excited to learn about Sachem’s Path, a new affordable development in the works. The development will give 40 island residents and families making between 80% and 150% of area median income the ability to purchase a home. Which means we could potentially be able to become homeowners on Nantucket. For us, a three bedroom house would cost $263,000 — an unimaginable amount given the costs of the currently available homes on the market. Sachem’s Path gave us hope that we could truly make a life here.
But what is life without controversy? Part of the funding for the development ($990,000 for site work and road/utility infrastructure) is proposed to be paid for by the town budget and must be voted on at town meeting. The finance committee recommended against it, and many other people are against it. Within our community, I have heard a lot of reasons about why people don’t like Sachem’s Path: worry about the neighborhood density impacting their home value (a.k.a., don’t do it in MY neighborhood); worry about the fact that people buying these homes will be vacating rentals and making life hard for landlords; worry that there won’t be enough interested parties to buy the homes or that it will provide too much competition for homes currently on the market — basically a lot of worry that introducing more affordable housing on island will lower housing values as a whole.
Good. Housing values need to go down on this island. Yes, there are costs associated with living in a resort community 30 miles out to sea; I understand that Nantucket will always be more expensive than many places in America. But, really, things have gotten out of hand here, for owners and renters alike. This island may be a millionaire’s playground, but it takes people in the service industry (like my husband) to keep it working, and that means making it feasible for them to settle down and make a home here. The island can’t rely on transient young people who are willing to live four or more to a house; it needs stable professionals who care about their community as much as their paycheck.
I hope with all my heart that tomorrow voters will see how important affordable housing is to our island, that they will be able to look beyond their own welfare and think about the welfare of the community and their neighbors who may not have as much money but work just as hard as they do.
For more information, this video provides a nice overview of the project (although it is now 40 instead of 50 houses).