Chebeague takes first step toward solving problem
An island group has purchased a house it will rent out affordably.

By TESS NACELEWICZ Staff WriterAugust 28, 2007


Carly Knight lives on Chebeague Island full time but has to cope with a rental market geared toward part-time summer people.

That means the 24-year-old and her lobsterman boyfriend, Mark Bowman, have to vacate the house they rent each July so the owners can enjoy their property too.

Knight is not complaining. She feels lucky to have found a house to rent, likes her landlord and is grateful to Bowman's family for letting her and Mark stay with them this July, when they couldn't find a one-month rental.

Still, Knight said, "I can't imagine what it's like for young families with kids who are doing it -- moving each year and hopping around."

Now, a group that helped this island become an independent town is actively working to help young families with children live year-round on Chebeague by creating more affordable housing. The goal of the Chebeague Island Community Association is to make available homes that young couples and families can afford to buy or rent year-round without having to move out for weeks or months at a time.

"There is a need for rental property on the island," said Beth Howe, chairwoman of the association's housing committee.

She said the association just bought its first house, a three- bedroom home on South Road, and plans to rent it at an affordable price, probably starting in November, to tenants who fit criteria that the group plans to draw up. The rent has not yet been set and will be determined using a formula related to renters' income and other factors.

After two years, Howe said, the group will decide whether to sell the house as affordable housing or continue to keep it as an affordable rental unit.

She said the need for housing that moderate-income people can afford is great on Chebeague, a picturesque Casco Bay island that can be reached only by ferry or boat.

While the median income for working families is $50,000, the median price for oceanfront homes exceeds $1 million. Even away from the water, the median price for a home in the interior of the island was $279,000 in 2005, Howe said.

The issue of affordable housing has taken on a particular urgency since Chebeague, which has about 350 year round residents, became its own town in July.

A major reason Chebeague seceded from the town of Cumberland after 186 years is that it wanted to keep control of its school. However, if young families can't afford to stay on the island, the school would have to close. Islanders fear that would lead to Chebeague's becoming only a summer resort.

The island's population swells to about 2,000 in the summer.

The Chebeague Island Community Association formed in 2005 as part of the secession effort. But now that Chebeague has become its own town, affordable housing has become a focus of the association -- particularly housing for young families.

"What good does it do us to gain control of our school if the school withered away because young families can no longer afford to live year round on the island?" the association asks in a statement on Chebeague's Web site.

Affordable housing, the groups says, fits in with its mission "to ensure the survival and long-term viability of Great Chebeague Island as a year-round community."

Donna Damon, a town selectman, said she doesn't know details of the association's efforts but praised its goal.

"I think what they're doing is admirable," she said. Damon, whose family ties to the island date back several hundred years, said she worries that her own children, one in college and one teaching in Massachusetts, will never be able to afford to make their homes on the island.

"I think there certainly is a need," she said.

The recently renovated house that the association purchased for $244,000 is in the center of the island, near the island market and the library, Howe said. The purchase was funded by loans and grants from the Genesis Community Loan Fund and from the Island Institute,... a nonprofit organization based in Rockland. The association also raised $25,000 for the purchase.

The association is planning more fundraising after it determines what its next project will be, Howe said.

One possible plan is to build some duplexes that can serve as rental units, she said. Currently, virtually all the housing on the island is single-family homes, and the rentals are often seasonal.

Howe said the island has a need for rentals "where you can have your own furniture and stay for a year or two without having someone come and stay for a month in the middle."

Knight, who first came to the island in 2005 on an Island Institute fellowship to work on community development programs and is now working at an island lobster cooperative, said she and Bowman, who is 25 and an island native, are not in a position now to buy a home.

Knight said friends on other Maine islands are facing a similar housing crunch. She praised Chebeague for trying to do something about it.

"It's wonderful that people are putting in the effort to try and create some opportunities and make a difference," she said. "Young working families are important to the island."

Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz can be contacted at 791-6367 or at: