On Monday, Feb. 24, Ted Koffman, a former member of the Maine House of Representatives, spoke at the University of Maine. Koffman’s lecture at the George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions was on the topic of creating sustainable communities in the state of Maine, as well as sharing the work he does with the Island Housing Trust (IHT) organization.
Koffman, who hails from Mount Desert Island (MDI), is currently a member of the board of directors for the Island Housing Trust, an organization that works to promote “viable, year-round island communities.” From the years 2002-08, Koffman worked for the Natural Resources Committee where he served as co-chair. Additionally, Koffman worked as the director of government and community relations at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor and has spent time working for the Maine Audubon Society.
Koffman’s lecture primarily focused on the societal issues in MDI communities and posed potential solutions to aid in community development.
In his role at the IHT, Koffman works to facilitate discussions and works with the Mount Desert Island community where they pose solutions to the issues the island is facing.
Koffman is passionate about the island and advocates strongly for a sense of place. A large quantity of the work he does is geared toward the improvement of the MDI community.
“You can conserve the natural environment, but what about the community,” Koffman asked of the audience at Monday’s event.
One of the primary issues that Koffman has identified in MDI is that there is a dwindling number of year-round residents on the island, in comparison with the number of seasonal visitors.
This significant decline in population is visible in many areas, primarily in elementary schools. Koffman spoke highly on behalf of the island’s public school system. However, the enrollment has significantly dropped in recent years, with the number of enrolled students dropping 23% since 2000. This is a result of a lack of year-round residents.
Koffman presented the fact that an increasing number of people want to live on the island all year, but are not able to due to the high cost of living in MDI.
“60% of people would live on the island if they could, but they can’t,” Koffman said.
The work that Koffman is involved with through the IHT works toward making housing on the island affordable. The IHT promotes their work through community outreach and envisions a future where MDI has a significant percentage of affordable year-round housing available to the workforce. The housing units that the IHT provides seeks to address the high cost of living, as housing costs in MDI have more than doubled, while median incomes on the island have increased by less than 50%.
“From 2000 to 2016, median home values on the island increased by more than 120%, while median income increased only by 44%,” Koffman noted.
As a result of this increase, as of 2017, 84% of homes that were for sale on MDI were not affordable for median income families.
Koffman is an advocate for initiatives that retain year-round residents on the island.
“We’d like more of them to come back,” Koffman said, referring to those who have left the island.
For those interested in learning more about the IHC, they should visit www.islandhousingtrust.org/.