A balancing act of tourism and affordable housing | Editorial

Last year people in our community were desperate for housing. Now a full year has passed. Has anything changed?

It depends on who you ask. For the islanders still in search of a roof over their heads, the answer is a strong no. Facebook pages have cropped up with numerous islanders sharing ideas about available rentals and ways to fight the housing crisis, but the page mainly functions as a way for people to vent about their frustration of not having a home. Other islanders have started building tiny homes, while others are considering roommates for the first time in years.

The county council has also gotten involved in the housing issue by creating a database of all vacation lodging being advertised in the county to ensure that all units are registered under a state business license, have a county transient lodging permit and are paying the appropriate state and county sales and lodging taxes. The council is also examining how the proliferation of vacation rentals might be affecting the availability of long-term, affordable housing that supplies the county’s middle working class.

Other countries have replied more strenuously to their own lack of housing. Several years ago Switzerland banned the construction of holiday homes in towns where they already account for more than 20 percent of the housing stock. In 2013, China banned single-person households from buying more than one residence in the capital of Beijing.

Here on American soil we, too, will have to look at ways to deal with those who are struggling to find just one home. According to a recent article in the “Atlantic,” rural communities – like our own – will struggle. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on average there are 14 homeless individuals per every 10,000 people in rural areas versus 29 homeless people per every 10,000 in urban areas. The alliance also notes there are some rural areas with very high rates of homelessness, and two of the highest rates in the country are in rural communities.

We are a rural community wrestling with a high concentration of tourism and the need for vacation homes. How do we balance that with also providing affordable housing? The council’s decision to closely monitor those running vacation rentals may be the first step, but our community also has an opportunity to anticipate the future.

American culture has always called for a certain presence of singularity, an independence that gives us strength, but perhaps that time is passing and what we can look forward to is more apartments, more community-oriented living situations and less space to roam.  The islands present a unique location because we already are a tight-knit community. The question is: how can we use that in our favor when it comes to finding a place to live?