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New federal legislation could help Mount Desert Island create more affordable housing

Virus Outbreak Maine Daily Life
Robert F. Bukaty
Visitors walk on a busy sidewalk, Saturday, May 15, 2021, in Bar Harbor, Maine. Gov. Janet Mills is is eliminating most outdoor distancing requirements imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic as the tourism season begins to kick into gear.

A new bill from Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins would transfer federal land from Acadia National Park to create more workforce housing options on Mount Desert Island.

The legislation authorizes a land transfer of an undeveloped parcel in Town Hill to Bar Harbor for the specific purpose of developing more affordable housing.

The National Park Service would keep at least 15 acres to use for its own workforce housing needs, according to the legislation.

A 1986 federal law initially designated the land to Bar Harbor for the purposes of building a centralized solid waste transfer station, but it never happened. Now, the land should be used for more pressing needs, like year-round housing on Mount Desert Island, King said in a release announcing the legislation.

Some businesses on Mount Desert Island have closed or cut back hours because they can't find the staff, and workers are struggling to find a place to live in the region, said Marla O'Byrne, director of Island Housing Trust.

"We've been getting phone calls and emails from people who have been year-round renters, and their apartment or house is being sold and converted to seasonal-use or weekly rental use, but it's not available to them as year-round," she said. "They can't find another year-round situation."

Island Housing Trust has been trying to build new affordable homes on Mount Desert Island, including a new neighborhood with 10 new units.

"We have more applicants than we have housing opportunities, which is unusual for us for over the last several years," O'Byrne said. "Covenants don't seem to bother people. Having a duplex opportunity, people are open to that. People are just looking for homes."

The housing crisis has impacted all parts of the MDI workforce, O'Byrne said, from teachers and first responders to the construction workers who are needed to build affordable housing in the region.

The housing trust has 40 households on a waiting list that are looking for an affordable year-round home on Mount Desert Island, O'Byrne added.