Nantucket has an affordable-housing crisis, and Isaiah Stover has a solution: “tiny houses.”
But it’s illegal to live in one there — for now.
At Nantucket’s annual Town Meeting in April, he proposed an amendment to the island’s zoning bylaws that would essentially allow for dwellings under 500 square feet in several districts. It passed and will go before the state attorney general for approval. If the go-ahead is given as expected, Stover, 40, may finally be permitted to complete and occupy the home he began building more than two years ago, and, according to state officials, Nantucket will officially be the first community in Massachusetts to approve zoning that specifically allows tiny houses.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that people can’t pursue their version of the American dream here,” said Stover, the owner and founder of Nantucket Tiny Houses. “They may love the community, but they can’t afford to buy a home here.”
Rents during the winter average about $2,000 per month for a two-bedroom, Stover said, and during the summer, that jumps to about $4,000-plus. What about buying? The median household income on Nantucket is $86,529, but the median sales price is about $1.2 million (Realtor.com).
Affordable housing has long been an issue on the island, in particular during the summer months, when seasonal workers flood the shores, forcing renters living here year round to scramble to find new or temporary accommodations for the summer as landlords raise the rent. An eight- or nine-month lease is not uncommon here. It’s all part of the annual “Nantucket shuffle.” Those islanders end up on couches or cramming into already overfilled homes and apartments, often illegally.
“It’s common to bounce around,” Stover said. “I’ve done it for more than 20 years. I never lived in one place for more than one year, but then two years ago, I was trying to find a place and just couldn’t.” He related the story of a young man and his cousin who were living in their pickup, and said it’s not unheard of for people to live in sheds. “People are taking desperate measures just to try to stay here,” he said…
When Stover could not find an affordable place to rent, he began building a tiny house — first on leased land and then on a half-acre he purchased, living in it as he worked on it. Then a neighbor complained, and Santamaria paid him a visit. Finding no sources of electricity or heat, he asked Stover to move out.
Some tiny homes violate state health and housing codes and the International Building Code, Santamaria said. “There are minimum height requirements of seven-foot ceilings in a sleeping room, which is a problem if you’re using a loft.” He also cites the state housing code’s requirement of a minimum of 150 square feet of floor space for each occupant. A 220-square-foot home occupied by a couple would be considered overcrowded — and illegal.
Health Board requirements include running water and sewer hookups. “Tiny houses have to be connected to on-site septic or sewer and a well or town water department. They can’t just use holding tanks,” Santamaria said, noting that composting toilets are a possibility but require a variance from the Nantucket Board of Health. The houses must also be wired for electricity, either through a town connection or solar panels….
Elsewhere in the state, tiny-house enthusiasts face similar obstacles, but some are forging ahead regardless, living in them in secret and waiting with trepidation for a neighbor to complain. That’s not the case with Vera Struck, 66, the founder of TerraBlu Teams, a sustainable-education nonprofit, and a member of the American Tiny House Association. She raised money online to build her Silver Bullet home on wheels, constructing it for just under $19,000, including donated and recycled materials. She approached Newbury town officials about building it because she didn’t want to do it in secret.
Struck’s motivation is twofold: affordable homes and sustainability.