Bar Harbor has turned its attention to vacation rentals amid affordable housing crisis

By Bill Trotter

Years after its restrictions on short-term vacation rentals caused legal trouble for Bar Harbor, the town is wading back into the question of how it can balance tourists’ demand for short-term rentals with the need for affordable housing for full-time and seasonal residents.

A consultant for Bar Harbor recently found that property owners market at least a fifth of the town’s housing stock on short-term rental websites, and workers at The Jackson Laboratory and in the town’s sizable seasonal tourist sector frequently encounter a lack of affordable housing when they’re looking for places to live. Jackson Lab’s new chief operating officer recently cited a lack of affordable housing for workers as the organization’s top challenge.

This winter, Bar Harbor’s elected town council has turned its attention to vacation rentals as a way of addressing the housing shortage.

Houses that tourists rent out by the week in the summer are often left vacant for the winter, despite the island’s need for year-round housing. That’s because people who vacation on MDI — where Acadia National Park draws millions of people each year during the summer and fall — are willing to pay more per night than year-round residents, allowing property owners to make more money by renting their houses out by the week for a few months of the year than they would by renting them out by the month throughout the year.

“It’s a problem,” Gary Friedmann, chairman of the town council, said Tuesday. “You walk down my street in the winter and half the houses are dark.”

The inability of young families who work in Bar Harbor to buy or rent houses in the town does not bode well for its future, he added. If the town is going to have schools and teachers and firefighters and nurses, he said, it needs houses where children and their working parents can afford to live.

Read the full Bangor Daily News article here.

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