Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, December 20, 2012
Isle au Haut grows affordable rental housing to sustain year round community
This two-bedroom home in town is directly across the street from the town’s school and has ocean views.
by Jessica Brophy
In 1998, Bill and Brenda Clark were looking for a change.
Bill was sent out to Isle au Haut to put an engine in, said Brenda. “We heard they were looking for more people, and we fell in love with Isle au Haut,” she continued.
What made the move possible for the Clarks was affordable rental housing available through Isle au Haut Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “sustaining a vibrant year-round community,” according to the ICDC website. Three homes were available at that time; since then, one of those homes has been purchased by Steve and Kate Shaffer, owners of Black Dinah Chocolatiers.
In 2010, the ICDC revived efforts to expand affordable rental offerings on the island by raising money and building two more homes. With the help of a $350,000 Maine Housing Authority grant, matched by $200,000 of local monies, two new homes are nearly constructed. One is a two-bedroom home across the street from the town’s school, and the second is a three-bedroom home in the Coombs’ Mountain area.
Much of the goal, said year-round resident and ICDC board member Bill Calvert, is to bring in more year-round residents, particularly those with children, to help sustain the community’s K-8 school. Currently, the school has four students, one teacher and one teacher’s aide.
“Our students have traditionally done very well in high school and beyond,” said Calvert. Some of the benefits of the small school include ample teacher attention, several class trips per year, hands-on learning and being part of the Island Institute’s Teaching and Learning Collaborative, which uses technology to connect students on Isle au Haut with students and teachers at other small island schools.
However, Calvert said applications are welcome from all kinds of people, not just those with children.
The application process for the housing is thorough, said Calvert. The application involves a credit check. One of the main concerns is gainful employment.
“You have to bring your own job,” he said, since the businesses and industry on the island are limited. However, with new technology that allows telecommuting and working online, he’s confident there are ways to make it work.
So far, Calvert said, there have been 20 inquiries about the rentals, which will be available soon. Only two of the 20 have actually come out to the island so far, but Calvert is hopeful more will consider the move.
“It’s a totally different way of life,” said Calvert. The natural beauty, close knit community and laid-back way of life has to be balanced with the reality of needing to take a ferry and paying higher costs for fuel and goods.
Some people (and children) may find it challenging to move to a place that has about 75 people year-round. “If you need to go to the mall all the time, this is not the place for you,” said Calvert.
The two homes were designed to be extremely energy efficient, said Calvert. The three bedroom home will rent for $750 per month plus utilities, and the two bedroom home for $650 plus utilities.
The Clarks ended up renting an ICDC home for six years before purchasing some land from the town to build their own home. Bill’s son, Nathan, who came out to stern for his father, recently purchased land to build his own house as well. All of the Clarks have been involved in town government and community groups; currently, Brenda serves as the town’s librarian. “With so few people, you tend to wear many hats,” she said.
Calvert said the goal is for people to try out year-round living on the island, and to help make the transition more affordable for people. “It’s been a success,” he said.
“There are challenges but you look to your neighbors,” said Clark. “We all help each other solve challenges. You know you can call your neighbor.”
For more information about the ICDC or to download an application, visit isleauhaut.org.