Nantucket is gearing up for the summer season, when it becomes a prime vacation destination. But for a portion of the island’s year-round population, it's when finding housing becomes a squeeze.
Laura Hall is the manager at the Bean, a chain of coffee shops on Nantucket. She’s lived on the island for seven years, and has a young daughter. Back in January, her landlord announced he would be selling the house she and her daughter had lived in for the past two years. She searched everywhere for an alternative to move into by May, posting many inquiries online.
"I have it on all of the community pages, and other small community pages, like the La Leche League, and ACK Moms," Hall said. "I have it on the consignments pages, I have it on my Facebook page."
She wears a woven necklace that simply says, “I need housing.” A coworker of hers made it for her after a similar necklace helped them find housing.
"This kind of gives a conversation starter, where I don’t have to ask everyone: 'Hey, do you know of rentals?'" she said.
Her situation isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s so typical that this kind of seasonal moving is called the "Nantucket Shuffle."
Anne Kuszpa is the director of Housing Nantucket, a nonprofit dedicated to helping low- and middle-income people find a place to live. She said it’s often a crunch, as homeowners decide to sell their properties in the spring, and at the same time, seasonal workers are coming in looking for rental housing.
"This time of year is particularly difficult," Kuszpa said. "We just get a lot of people in a crisis situation, and there’s just nowhere to go."
Housing Nantucket has about 35 units available for rent through their programs, but the waiting list to get one of those units is nearly 200 people long. An additional stressor is that Housing Nantucket tenants typically don’t leave until they’re ready to buy, so turnover is slow. New people can expect to wait an average of two to three years before a place opens up. Kuszpa worried that the situation is getting worse as the island becomes more popular as a tourist destination.
"If we want to keep up with the seasonal growth, then we need to accommodate the people who are servicing that seasonal tourist economy," she said.
Kalina Parusheva has lived in rentals on Nantucket for the past 18 years and was finally given a rental unit through Housing Nantucket this past December, after being on the waiting list for four years. She’s the director of the Nantucket Culinary Center, and for the majority of the last 18 years, she shuffled through rental units seasonally.
"Before my son was born, I would do winter and summer rentals. So for four months, I would do summer rentals and in winter I would go into seasonal rental," she said.
But once she had her son, shuffling became harder. In the past two years, she’d secured year-round housing in a basement unit, but she said it wasn’t a great place to live, and she was overjoyed when she finally got the call from Housing Nantucket.
"I’m very, very lucky that now I have housing with my son," she said. "I have a lot of friends who have relocated. Somehow I was able to manage."
But for Laura Hall at the Bean, she hasn’t been as lucky. In the end, she was unable to find an affordable rental in time for her move-out date. She will be relocating to Baltimore, where her family has a home. I talked to her as she pushed her two-year-old daughter in a stroller on her way to work, and she sounded frustrated.
"A lot of people have to leave. Soon there’s going to only be places for tourists, and there’s going to be no one to serve them," Hall said.
A 150-unit affordable housing community is currently being proposed on the island, and a 22-unit dormitory-style building for seasonal workers may be in the works, though it’s met some community opposition.