Architecture & Real Estate | April 30, 2023 6:09 pm

What’s Happening With Housing in Nantucket?

A perfect storm of affordable housing issues

Nantucket, 2021
Downtown Nantucket in 2021.
Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

No matter where you are in the country, it’s likely you’ve been hearing something about the need for affordable housing. This is especially the case in areas where geography means that there are hard limits on where new housing can be built — such as, say, New York City. That’s the complicated thing about islands — there comes a point when you simply can’t build any more. All of which might help explain why Nantucket is experiencing its own housing crisis.

It’s an issue that The Boston Globe has been covering over the years, but it’s also indicative of larger issues that are affecting communities all over the country — if not the world.

Writing at Air Mail, Clara Moloft has a deeper look at the conflict on the island about its future and who can and cannot afford to live there. Moloft cites figures that make this abundantly clear, including “tiny fishermen’s cabins in town” fetching sale prices of up to $6.7 million. Where things get more complicated, Moloft notes, is a Massachusetts state statute called Chapter 40B, which allows affordable housing developers to get around some local zoning laws. Given Nantucket’s abundance of those, you might be able to see how this could lead to an issue.

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The Air Mail article chronicles a number of issues facing Nantucket — including clashes between different state and local authorities and concerns over whether developers building affordable and market-rate housing are mistreating the former for the latter. (Admittedly, this is a not a phenomenon unique to Nantucket.)

But there’s another aspect of this to consider as well — the article describes a number of middle-income people who work as teachers and firefighters leaving the island because of the cost of housing. That seems like a much larger issue waiting to happen — and a shrinking amount of time to figure it out.