The depths of Nantucket’s housing crisis were laid bare last week as the Board of Health ratified the emergency condemnations of two dwellings.
One of them - a barn located deep in the woods off Milestone Road where at least 10 people were living - was described by the town’s chief environmental health officer as “one of the worst housing scenarios I’ve seen.” The other was a work storage trailer - one you would typically see hooked up to the back of a pickup truck - that had been converted into a living area for two people.
The Board of Health voted unanimously to ratify the decision of the Health Department and other town agencies to issue emergency condemnation orders for both of them.
Inside the barn structure off Milestone Road, town inspectors discovered gas propane tanks being used for heaters, rodent burrows, car batteries being used as charging stations, a diesel generator inside the building that wasn’t vented to the outside, broken windows, as well as unfinished floors and walls. The Health Department went to the property with a team of town officials from the Building Department and Fire Department in response to a complaint filed about a camper on the property, as well as unsanitary conditions at the barn structure. They found the entire property “littered with various refuse,” according to the inspection report obtained by the Current.
“All I can say is it was one of the worst housing scenarios I’ve seen,” John Hedden, the town's chief environmental health officer, told the Board of Health.
The two-acre property - which has a driveway off Milestone Road but a physical address at 34 Hinsdale Road - has been owned by Deutsche Bank since it went into foreclosure in 2019. It is surrounded by parcels owned by the Nantucket Land Bank.
On Cato Lane, a similar complaint brought health inspectors to a property where a black trailer was parked next to a residence. Inside the trailer, they found two beds and a space that had been converted into living quarters. One person was inside the trailer at the time and was informed that it was going to be condemned.
“There was no real ventilation, no real electricity, it was just a long black trailer with doors built into it,” Health Department director Roberto Santamaria told the Board of Health.
Santamaria said the person living in the trailer on Cato Lane has since moved off-island, while he was unsure what had become of the 10 people who had been living in the barn at 34 Hinsdale Road.
Both situations, he said, were illustrative of what the island’s housing crisis has resulted in for those seeking a place - any place - to lay their head at night on an island where the median single-family home price last year was $3.36 million.
“This is a situation that has become more commonplace these last few years," Santamaria told the Current. "As the housing crisis gets worse we are only going to see more of them in more desperate conditions”
As Housing Nantucket describes the island’s crisis: “Many residents face a dismal choice: live in unsafe conditions, or relocate off-island.”
The non-profit currently has 385 households on its waiting list for a safe, affordable rental, including two households that have been on the list since 2011.
While the town has allocated more than $70 million in taxpayer funding for affordable housing projects since 2019, progress has been slow in putting “heads in beds.” Those funds have resulted in housing for 36 year-round households over the past four years, and another high-profile project - the Wiggles Way affordable apartment complex off Fairgrounds Road - will soon be completed. But several properties acquired by the town’s Affordable Housing Trust since 2019 - including lots on Orange Street, White Street, Bartlett Road, and off Vesper Lane - remain undeveloped as the trust works through the protracted government procurement and RFP (request for proposals) process simply to settle on a design for the affordable housing projects that will one day occupy those properties.