ISLESBORO, Maine — Rick Rogers is a recent transplant to this Penobscot Bay island community, but he understands its challenges.
“We’re trying to keep these places from turning into retirement communities,” he said Tuesday. When young people leave, when a school closes, when middle- and working-class families no longer can afford housing, “it’s over,” said Rogers, himself a retiree.
To stem that tide, a nonprofit group called Islesboro Affordable Property, formed in 1988, continues to develop homes that local folks can buy or rent. Most recently, the Waldo County island saw two modular homes delivered by barge and set up on donated land.
“In the last three years, we’ve had a market survey done to determine, from a third-party perspective, what the island needs,” Rogers said. And topping the list of needs is affordable, year-round rental properties.
Property and buildings on islands typically are highly valued on the real estate market. Wealthy out-of-staters often build or renovate older houses for summer getaways, which drives up prices.
“The cost of real estate on all these inhabited [Maine] islands mostly exceeds the ability of people to pay,” especially for moderate- and lower-income people, Rogers said.
Building new or renovating also is expensive because it often is difficult, time-consuming and costly to get materials and equipment onto the island. Transportation options are the ferry service or a private vessel.
Rogers said the affordable housing group, for which he is the paid executive director, decided its next project was to establish two three-bedroom, two-bathroom houses that would be rented to income-eligible residents. Eligibility typically is 120 percent of federal adjusted median income limits. These two houses bring the group’s total units to 14. The first eight were sold to income-eligible people; subsequent sales of those must occur at affordable rates.
After seeking bids from a couple of island-based building contractors, who declined given that they’d have to meet certain MaineHousing insurance standards, the group sought bids from manufactured housing dealers. Pray’s Homes of Belfast won the contract.
Funds for this latest round of housing came from a MaineHousing bond, assisted by the nonprofit Genesis Fund.
An island donor who prefers to remain anonymous gave three 1.5-acre parcels of land near the community’s center for the houses. The third lot will available for development in the future.
“It’s within walking distance of the store,” Rogers said, and near the library and school.
Among those who are living in the affordable units developed by the group are an administrative assistant, ed techs, a teacher, cooks and cleaners at the school, the captain of the island water taxi, the owner of the local newspaper, ferry workers and contractors.
“We try to support those who are integral to running the island,” he said. “We’re trying to maintain a certain socioeconomic segment.”
Rogers, a retired Delta airline pilot who settled on the island in 2005, relocating from Indiana, said the group’s mission is to help Islesboro remain “a vital and successful year-round community” by providing quality, affordable housing.