Chris Perry Column: I Think They're On To Something

Chris Perry •

It wasn’t because of a lack of trying. And it wasn’t because they shied away from controversy.

But after a bumpy start with Article 90 in 2021, Article 42 vs. 43 in 2022, and Article 60 in the spring of 2023, ACK Now might be hitting their stride because I think they are on to something.

Initially incorporated in the fall of 2019 with a mission of addressing Nantucket’s rapid growth on several fronts from housing to transportation to building, ACK Now has taken its fair share of body blows - including a couple from me - but they have never been knocked out.

“When the board and our advisory council reorganized, the group’s mission evolved”, said executive director Julia Lindner.

This new mission produced a recently introduced program called “Lease to Locals,” which aims to pay property owners for converting housing units into year-round rentals for local residents. If its early success is any indication of where ACK Now is headed, I think they just hit it out of the park.

“We never started out as a group of politicians,” Lindner confessed. “We simply try to address relevant topics and it was one of our board members, Scott O’Connor, who wanted us to find a program out there that would incentivize rental property owners by bridging the financial gap between short-term rental income and year-round rental income.”

With some estimates showing Nantucket losing roughly 30 percent of its year-round, rental housing inventory over the past 10 years, ACK Now’s due diligence led them to Colin and Kay Frolich and the idea of Lease to Locals.

Frolich’s Lease to Locals program was developed with ski resort areas such as Vail, Sun Valley, and Lake Tahoe in mind. However, it did not take long for Lindner and ACK Now to see the potential benefits of the program working on Nantucket.

“We took a risk in September of ’23 and we signed up for a 12-month pilot program which required ACK Now to privately fund the payouts,” said Lindner.

Initially, ACK Now sent out mailings to every locally-owned property encouraging the owners to participate in this incentive program. This mailing produced roughly 50 inquiries. And then, another 30 when they opened it up to off-island rental property owners too. From that total, approximately 40 “qualified” and are interested in moving forward.

“We were learning as we moved along. This was the first program of its kind on the East Coast through Frolich and ‘Placemate’ all in an effort to broker a program that would help maintain the local, year-round rental market which is crucial to the island’s success,” summarized Lindner.

Originally founded as an advocacy group, ACK Now created a sister agency this past fall called ACK Now Community Initiatives with a charitable mission allowing them the opportunity to raise money to help fund this program. With a goal of creating 20 year-round housing opportunities in the first year of the pilot program, ACK Now Community Initiatives has already secured 13 properties in the first four months with 10 more near fruition and a total commitment to rental owners of over $250,000.

“I think we have hit on something but we couldn’t do it without some generous support,” said Lindner.

“Both the McCausland Family Foundation and the Community Foundation For Nantucket, who used discretionary resources earmarked for the critical issue of housing on Nantucket, made significant contributions. Their donations along with many others who have supported this initiative will hopefully be part of a program that we can sustain and expand because we know it works,” Lindner added.

To date, 31 year-round community members have benefitted. That number represents 13 local families, and out of that number, nine of the families have at least one family member who has secured year-round employment through the Nantucket school system, the town of Nantucket, or Nantucket Cottage Hospital.

“I am just so grateful,” said Mary Xenopoulos, RN who is the director of nursing for the medical-surgical floor at Nantucket Cottage Hospital.

“We moved into a three-bedroom, two-bath property on January 1st. I had been looking for over 18 months and with two dogs, it’s been tough. But, Jack helped put this together and here I am so thankful to everyone in the community who has supported this program”.

Jack is Jon “Jack” Bulger who is currently the hospital’s housing coordinator and a veteran of the local real estate market as a former broker for William Ravis.

“This program has been terrific for the hospital. I believe we have secured six successful matches through Lease to Locals ranging from a studio apartment to Mary’s three-bedroom,” said Bulger.

“People in the community want to help the hospital. It’s been amazing and I know how important the private funding is to the success of this program. I just hope it continues,” added Jack.

The payouts to homeowners can top out at a total of $27,000. These financial incentives are based on several factors including the number of qualified tenants and the size of the property. And to date, Lease to Locals has secured studios, apartment units, condos, and single-family homes.

“It is worth noting that of the 13 units participating in the program today, five used to be short-term rentals,” added Lindner. With a goal of revitalizing the inventory of year-round housing units on Nantucket, that is a step in the right direction.

With the town of Nantucket seemingly obsessed with throwing excessive amounts of money at medium and long-term, affordable housing “solutions” on Nantucket, this “immediate-term solution” has produced swift, tangible results. With one eye still anxiously glued to the Massachusetts Land Court and its pending ruling on short-term rentals, ACK Now and ACK Now Community Initiatives are not sitting back and waiting to react to local events. They are proactively anticipating Nantucket’s future.

As I mentioned earlier, it was a bumpy start for ACK Now. In fact, in a column I wrote in May of 2023, I referred to their initial string of defeats at Town Meeting as a leading cause for their “batting average dropping below the dread Mendoza Line.”

But a single here and a double there and a triple to straightaway center field over the last eight months and the next thing you know, their batting average is up over a well-respected .300.

With the introduction of the Lease to Locals program on Nantucket looking more and more like a home run, they may not make it to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame. But give them credit, they are certainly on a hot streak.

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