Affordable and Green Housing on Nantucket Island

Sponsor: Nantucket Housing
Sponsor Liaison: Aaron Marcavitch, Executive Director, Housing Nantucket
Student Team: Haley Marie Connelley, Matthew S. Henry, Kristen M. Hughes
Abstract: The shortage of affordable housing has been a major problem in Nantucket, MA, and continues to be so today. The goal of this project was to help Housing Nantucket evaluate strategies and options for expanding the availability of affordable housing on Nantucket. Through case studies, interviews, literature reviews, and observations, we identified suitable parcels of land for affordable housing developments and examined innovative land use and green building methods for these parcels.
Link: Housing_Final_IQP

Executive Summary

There has been a growing issue of affordable housing in the United States for decades. Out of this dilemma has come the creation of several housing organizations that monitor and manage the housing situation in each state. For Massachusetts alone there are many groups. Two of them are the Citizens Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Groups like these have been working to provide some form of relief from this problem, but there is still a crying need for affordable housing. This situation can be worse in towns that have a higher cost of living and/or higher housing costs than the national average.

Nantucket is a place that fits into both of these categories. The cost of living is extremely high, and home prices are even higher. There are several groups on the island that are all working to provide a form of relief for anybody who makes less than 150% of the median gross income in Nantucket County. One of these groups is Housing Nantucket, a small non-profit organization whose mission is to create “sustainable community housing opportunities in Nantucket.” Some of the services they provide are rental units to the residents of the island who earn less than 80% of the area median income and home ownership opportunities to residents who earn less than 150% of the area median income. They have had an abundance of success in doing so, but are starting to find progress more difficult due to a lack of available land to develop for affordable housing and opposition to new developments. A source of new ideas is needed to address the problem.

As part of our project to help the affordable housing situation, we worked with Housing Nantucket to evaluate strategies and options for expanding the availability of affordable housing on Nantucket. To accomplish this goal we created two objectives to be completed during our stay on the island, which were (1) to identify vacant parcels of land that are suitable for affordable housing developments, and (2) to examine innovative building and land use methods for these parcels.

To accomplish the first objective, we contacted the Geographic Information System (GIS) coordinator on the island, Nathan Porter, who provided us with GIS maps, overlays of Nantucket, and data tables regarding the parcels of land on the island. From these overlays and data tables we were able to narrow down the list of over 13,000 parcels of land to manageable number to investigate further. These data tables contained land use codes that we were unfamiliar with. To gain knowledge of these codes, we conducted an interview with the town‟s Assessor to interpret the codes and ask which codes were best suited for the parcels of land we were searching for. Another way we narrowed down the list of land parcels was to create a list of criteria that each parcel must meet in order to be used for affordable housing developments. These criteria came from research and interviews we conducted with affordable housing organizations, town officials, and other key informants in the affordable housing field. With the information we have obtained, we have created a list of the recommended criteria that the parcels of land should meet in order to accommodate affordable housing developments. These criteria are as follows:

  • Be located in the town sewer district
  • Have access to the town water supply
  • Be located in close proximity to common amenities
  • Be located along existing roads
  • Have nearby access to sidewalks and bike paths
  • Have potential to incorporate passive solar energy

As there is a lack of available land on the island, not all parcels found were able to meet the criteria we had set. Despite this, we identified the parcels of land that incorporated most or all of these recommended standards and organized them from the parcels that met the most number of criteria to the parcels that met the least number of criteria.

By inputting the criteria we developed into the GIS software, we were able to successfully narrow down the 13,256 parcels of land to 208 vacant parcels. We presented this list to our liaison, Aaron Marcavitch, who further narrowed down the list to 84 potential parcels, and deemed 25 parcels best suited for development. After further investigation into the list of 84 parcels, we found six additional parcels that we felt were also suitable for affordable housing. With additional evaluation of these 31 parcels and combining linked lots, we found 20 sites that are highly recommended for future affordable housing developments.

To find the appropriate innovative land and building methods for Housing Nantucket, we first investigated the current housing and land policies the Town of Nantucket enforces. From this information, we narrowed down which innovative land and building methods were permissible, and which areas we should focus on during our research into these innovative techniques. Through case studies, additional research, and interviews on this topic, we found the appropriate innovative techniques. The case studies which we researched included the Wisdom Way Solar Village in Greenfield, Massachusetts; the Jenney Way project located in Edgartown, Massachusetts; and the Clarendon Street house from Nantucket, Massachusetts. We studied and interviewed the key informants in these communities to discover what innovative techniques were used to help overcome the housing issues in those areas and what techniques Housing Nantucket could possibly implement.

All three of the case studies we have researched have incorporated green technology into its affordable housing design. We have seen the use of solar equipment, new insulation methods, and even new window technology. Each site that we visited approached the green building situation slightly differently, but ultimately achieved very similar results. For example, each house used different insulation methods, but all managed to create a home that was tightly sealed. Another feature was that all of these sites maintained the affordability of their units while using many green technologies. These visits allowed us to observe the different ideas in regards to affordable and green housing that these different areas of the state had incorporated.

In our interviews we asked common questions regarding the current affordable housing situation on the island. These questions resulted in an array of answers, but one response occurred many times. This response was that there needs to be better communication between the non-profit organizations involved with affordable housing and the town government.
The recommendations we have are that the non-profits involved with affordable housing and the town government should have better collaboration on goals and progress. Four of the six interviewees whom we spoke with agreed that there was not enough communication between the housing organizations on the island. There are several different housing organizations on Nantucket, our sponsor, Housing Nantucket, Habitat for Humanity, and the Nantucket Housing Authority. All of these groups share the same goal of providing more affordable housing for the residents of the island. It is very important that there be a collaborative effort put forth towards the affordable housing front. Nantucket is still at less than half of the required 10% affordable housing minimum. If Housing Nantucket and various other housing organizations on the island can work together for this shared goal of more affordable housing units, the 10% minimum can be reached more easily. Communication between these groups will ensure that Nantucket is not working against itself in the quest for more affordable housing.