What Are We Going to Do About Nantucket’s Housing Crisis?

Mary Mack •

To the editor:

Nantucket has a lot of houses, but no housing. It’s a non sequitur, but it is the reality here: many people who work in the community, currently cannot find a place to live.

There is virtually no attainable shelter here, other than finding the bushiest bushes with, hopefully, a flat grassy spot in between. Perhaps a camouflage tent, to avoid being discovered and reported, could upgrade your new digs, as would a quality down sleeping bag.

Where is Underground Tom when you need him? I’m serious. His skills would come in quite handy right about now.

But really, what ARE we going to do? We as a community can solve this problem. We need ALL these talented, hard-working people that we are now losing—the people that keep Nantucket safe and running. They take care of us. They feed us, they teach our kids, they heal our ills and they protect us. They are essential to all of us, and to those who visit in the summer months when the population swells. If you think of it purely in a selfish way, we are in danger without them. Maybe not today, but we need to think in the long-term and see the big picture.

Lack of attainable housing is akin to a slow contagion. It’s only a matter of time until this crisis affects you, if it hasn’t deeply already.

For some, the “illness” may simply be experienced as a series of annoying inconveniences, like business closings. Or, it may be deadly. Imagine you are having a heart attack in late July and you did not survive it because several very experienced paramedics were absent. You could not be stabilized at the scene because the expert paramedics could not find housing.

In short, we only have enough housing for the vacationers who can pay Nantucket’s prices and for those fortunate enough to own homes.

Vacation home rentals are good for Nantucket’s economy and part of the fabric of Nantucket summer life. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Many families turn to short-term home rentals, through different internet platforms or through local realtors. Others have no need to rent out space and either live here year-round, while some spend most of their summer leisure time enjoying their second homes.

Meanwhile, human beings that keep Nantucket running smoothly — and are essential to all other human beings that live here or set foot on our shores in the summer — have nowhere to live.

There are the haves and the have-nots. It is what it is. However, the haves deeply need the have-nots and the have-nots have the needs of being human! It is such a fundamental principle and being 30 miles out to sea, there is nowhere else for these have-not human beings to turn.

We can no longer look the other way. We have to — as human beings — take care of other human beings whom we all depend upon simply by being human!

There is workforce housing being built, but it is several years or more from completion. So, the time is now to decide to be part of the solution.

There are ways — with the help of our town leaders, lawyers and Nantucket’s financial resources — to make renting year-round to locals and seasonal workers safer, easier and financially satisfactory. By creating a solution team, the risk and hassle of renting year-round, can be greatly alleviated. In this way, people don’t have to be afraid to rent. Let’s face it, it is risky to rent long-term and especially in the state of Massachusetts where the homeowner has few rights. Many people have been burned by non-paying, destructive tenants and have spent thousands in legal fees trying to get them out. This scenario can end with effort and professional community teamwork and town leadership.

Those who CAN afford to convert their short-term rental to year-round for, say, one or two years should consider doing this. The idea is to offer an attractive upfront payment from town funds, while the homeowner charges an affordable rent to the tenant. Altogether, the amounts would add up to a Nantucket year-round market rate. A modest home, a cottage, an apartment or even a bedroom is all ideal. This situation would not equate with the super lucrative short-term monetary amounts, but it would be comparable to fair market rate for a Nantucket year-round rental.

Other incentives could be offered, like free reserved prime downtown parking. Imagine not having to circle around town for 20 minutes to find a parking space?

Help with vetting and legal issues could be worked out to make it a safe and easy rental agreement called a license — often tied to employment — in place of the traditional Massachusetts landlord/tenant lease. Instead of tenants taking possession of the homeowner’s space, the tenants have the homeowner’s permission.

All we can do is ask, so I will publicly ask: If you are a homeowner and doing financially well enough, and have space that you typically use as a short-term Airbnb rental, or similar, will you convert it to a year-round rental for a local or for a seasonal worker? Will you do this if it were safe, relatively easy, well-vetted, and financially satisfactory? Would you do the above, if you had the tenacious support of the town of Nantucket and the community?

Town of Nantucket and legal professionals, will you team up — with tenacity — to financially compensate and alleviate risk for the human beings that step up to help other human beings?

Mary Mack,

Polpis Road

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