That comes as Airbnb listings have increased exponentially, jumping from just three in 2012 to 298 in 2018, according to a housing study.
Lobster boats fill a cove in Stonington as the sun starts to set on Sept. 15, 2022. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

When Stonington voters go to their annual town meeting, they will have the chance to make big changes to ease the housing crisis in the island town.

The state’s largest lobster port has seen an increase in properties being used seasonally, making it harder to foster a year-round community. The town now plans to have residents decide at the March annual town meeting whether to create a fund to help develop housing by using cash from tax-acquired properties. An exact dollar amount hasn’t been settled on, but it could be as much as $100,000.

The town is the first in the area to consider such a method.

Stonington also is working toward creating a registration process for short-term rentals and plans to craft regulations to halt the conversion of first-floor downtown storefronts into residential properties in order to preserve the town’s commercial center.

“Setting a registration, it’s really the first baby step for us to be able to control what we want Stonington to look like,” said Linda Nelson, the town’s economic and community development director.

Using the proceeds from the sale of foreclosed homes to help battle the lack of available housing in the town was first discussed last year. It comes as the island’s Airbnb listings have increased exponentially, jumping from just three in 2012 to 298 in 2018, according to a 2019 housing stock study. Only about 15 percent of housing units in Deer Isle and Stonington are year-round rentals.

Some lobster boat captains say they have fishermen commuting from as far as Appleton and Bangor.

Nelson said the town is still working on exactly how the fund would be used to develop housing, but officials have mentioned possibly using it to pay for land to entice developers. The town also could look into putting affordable housing easements on properties acquired in foreclosure, said John Steed, a Select Board member.

“I’d be in support of it,” he said.

While the Stonington efforts will go to a vote soon, a separate regional Blue Hill Peninsula housing group that sprung up in 2022 is progressing more slowly. The group of town leaders, developers and housing nonprofits has been meeting about once a month since September and discussed the potential of creating a regional housing authority.

Before taking that step, the group had raised the idea of asking the peninsula towns to chip in $15,000 each to conduct a study to assess the region’s housing needs and to explore potential solutions. Such an undertaking has never been done, though some towns have done it individually.

But not everyone’s on board.

The Deer Isle Select Board said last month it wasn’t interested, and Stonington plans to march forward with its own fund at the town meeting this spring. None of the peninsula towns has come out against the article, said Bill Cohen, a Select Board member from Brooklin who has been leading the regional effort, but they also haven’t put it on their warrants yet.

“I think we are starting to sort out those that want to dance together and those that don’t,” he said.

Nailing down how much need there is in the area will be a crucial first step.

“We need to know what we are chasing,” he said.