Affordable housing, year-round housing, seasonal workforce housing, and vacation houses are mathematically linked. Let’s do the math.

A lot of communities around the country are struggling with affordable housing and have come up with some very interesting solutions, so far.

But because we are an island, a lot of the solutions or changes that work elsewhere need to be modified to work on Nantucket. Adding more affordable and workforce housing is a good idea on its surface. Obviously, we need more year-round housing and we need more seasonal workforce housing for folks who come here to work in the summer. 

The problem is unless we slow or stop the growth of vacation homes (whether they are short-term rentals or not), and the drop in year-round ownership, the target for year-round and workforce housing is always going to be moving upward. And since we are an island, we can’t just keep building. At some point, we will run out of potential places for year-round housing. (And I’m not even talking about affordable housing, which has a special set of criteria and only applies to people in a certain income bracket. Most year-rounders can’t qualify for “affordable” housing because they make too much money.) 

Here’s the problem: No one has done the math. No one on the Affordable Housing Trust, or the Planning Office or the Building Department, or the Department of Health has grabbed a pencil and said, okay if we have X,000 vacation homes that need XX,000 year-rounders and X,000 seasonal workers to support them, then we need X,000 bedrooms and that means we need X00 new units to reach an equilibrium. We could then arrive at a nice, neat set of target percentages for seasonal and year-round bedrooms.  

I’ve asked the question of some town officials, “what does the end game look like, because we can’t build forever?” and the answer so far has been, “that’s a good question, we wish we knew.” Good, sincere people. But they have no idea.  

30 years ago when they were just getting started on the comprehensive plan, a few people probably had a good idea. And if we had acted then, and stayed the course we might not be on an island where the harbors can no longer support the scallop harvest like it once did, the roads and parking are often at capacity, the moorings are at capacity, the energy infrastructure is at capacity, the freight boats are at capacity and the housing is way over capacity. 

These days, if someone actually did the math, there would be a bunch of very loud people coming out of the woodwork to say the math was faulty, calculated by special interests. The question is, especially for a group of people who love the island, is this the kind of island we want to live on, or is there something better?