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SOLUTIONS TO HOUSING CRISIS PROPOSED AT FORUM

 

Multiple proposals to resolve the affordable seasonal workforce housing crisis were advanced by panelists and audience members at a lively Nantucket Civic League forum on November 7, 2015. About 65 citizens attended the November 7 forum, moderated by NCL’s Co-President Charles Stott.

 

A panel composed of Co-President Peter Morrison, Selectman Rick Atherton, Assistant Planning Director Leslie Woodson Snell and realtors Stephen Maury and Henry Sanford, focused on potential solutions to pilot-test in the spring of 2016.  Panelists called for changes in zoning and tax incentives to expand affordable housing stock and encouraging owners and employers to seek permission for garage and accessory apartments and tertiary dwellings in zoning districts that permit them.

 

From the brainstorming session emerged a consensus formed around strengthening an organization like Housing Nantucket so that it could launch a limited “proof of concept” pilot-test program to link renters and owners.  Owners would submit information on a website; prospective tenants would submit an application; the organization itself would screen references, perform background checks, and otherwise vet tenants.  Owners and employees each would pay a modest service charge.

 

Executing a pilot test, Morrison noted, would necessitate securing an immediate source of seed money for staffing and logistics.  The payoff to the sponsor(s) would be a “proof of concept” by 2016 and the establishment thereafter of a largely self-supporting private sector enterprise or public-private enterprise to put before Annual Town Meeting in 2017.

 

On a preceding panel aimed at framing the issue as a shared community pursuit, Planning Director Andrew Vorce described the Town's Master Plan and the prevailing public sentiment that the primary responsibility for affordable workforce housing lies with the private sector. The challenge, he explained, is to create housing that remains affordable as land supply shrinks and real estate demand drives up cost.  Incentives to the private sector should be identified, he said.

 

Selectman Tobias Glidden reviewed the role of the private sector, the public sector, and the taxpayers in tackling the Island’s affordable housing problem. He emphasized that Nantucket must engage on this issue.  He noted that the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which can own, buy, and sell land for affordable housing, is underutilized and underfunded.  Housing Nantucket receives funding through the Community Preservation Committee; and he observed that Habitat for Humanity is a great program deserving of additional funding.

 

Another panel featured Town Manager Libby Gibson, Stop and Shop mid-island manager Ron Foti, Marty McGowan of ‘Sconset Gardener and Johann Rodrigues of Cape Air who described their efforts as individuals and employers to provide seasonal housing for workers.  A common theme was the impact on Town and commercially provided services if high quality seasonal employees cannot be hired or retained because of the housing crisis.

 

Selectman Rick Atherton emphasized that employee housing is a private sector issue and the Town's responsibility is limited to housing its own seasonal employees and perhaps acquiring necessary land.  He noted that taxpayers must prioritize numerous competing interests--affordable housing, sewer expansion, Our Island Home, and a new fire station.

 

Audience members offered varied suggestions:

          • constructing dorm-like structures adjacent to the Public Safety Facility complex;

          •  a task force to establish a clearinghouse

          • a real estate trust

          • Seeking funds from the CPC for Housing Nantucket (or some other organization) to hire staff and establish a website to match landlords and tenants

          • building residence halls to house seasonal workers

 

The forum may be viewed on demand at http://nantucketcommunitytelevision.org. A Digest of Proceedings and Options for Consideration can be accessed here.

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Promoting the general welfare of Nantucket through informed citizen participation in community affairs, since 1903.