Taking a long view on short-term rentals

In the process of doing what we do at ACK•Now, we dig deep into a lot of existing research and we talk to a lot of people. We ask them about the things they love about Nantucket. We explore challenges, including those that relate to growth and housing. And eventually, the conversation comes back to the same topics. One of them is short-term rentals. 

It’s a subject that is getting a lot of attention in cities and vacation destinations around the country and the world. Communities everywhere are trying to cope with the challenges that short-term rentals bring. They have been around Nantucket for a long time, and are an important part of the local economy for many reasons. But with the advent of online platforms like Airbnb, the dynamics seem to be changing and the impacts on housing and neighborhoods appear to be increasing.

How big is the industry on Nantucket? We know we have at least 1,500 rentals registered with the state, and that number is growing as more vacation homeowners comply with the new short-term tax. We also know that the town collected $1.6 million more in lodging taxes last summer and fall compared to 2018 when only hotels and inns were being taxed. Given it’s a 6% tax, we can conservatively estimate that the short-term rental industry on Nantucket is worth well over $30 million annually. And that’s likely an underestimate. 

No matter how you look at it, we are talking about a powerful economic force that’s worth discussing.

Stay tuned. 

Have a great Sunday.

Annual Town Meeting Goes Electric

Nantucket’s Annual Town Meeting will be different this year. Faster. Easier to vote. And worth attending for some who have stayed away. Here’s why. 

Back in the day, when the population on Nantucket was much smaller, and “kids and dogs ruled the downtown,” according to one local native we know, it was easy for the community to keep an eye on itself. Everyone knew everyone and parents would keep tabs on each other’s children if they saw them around the island. As a result, there was, for some, a chilling effect on one’s behavior. Eyes were everywhere. This was a good thing if you were a parent. But fast forward to today and you can see that this level of public scrutiny might not work for people who vote.

We’ve heard from more than a few people who say they don’t attend town meeting because they don’t want to be forced to raise their hand and let friends, customers, employers, and others see how they vote. It’s far easier to follow one’s conscience and vote the way we want to when no one is watching — like when we go into the voting booth.

That’s why the town is experimenting with technology to allow people to vote electronically at Annual Town Meeting. Here are the details. 

The solution that the town is using is from a company called Option Technologies in Florida. They already work with several towns in Massachusetts who have town meetings. The units will be handed out at check-in and they look like this. Despite the numerous buttons, there will be only three working ones: “Yes,” “No,” and “Clear.” There will be a test vote prior to starting the meeting to make sure everyone is comfortable with the process, and Option Technologies reps will be on hand to troubleshoot.

Not only will all voting be anonymous, but this technology may also speed up the meeting (a huge bonus in a year with 117 articles on the warrant). There will be no hand counts. No groups trying to shout down one another by declaring “aye” or “no” really, really loudly. Just push a few buttons and 30 seconds later we will know the result. 

There will still be discussions, speeches and people standing to raise points of order. Roberts Rules and town meeting traditions will still apply; that aspect of the meeting will remain the same.

The downside? One minor drawback is that the public will not be able to see how their elected officials vote. We used to be able to gauge the positions of select board members or planning board folks or administration just by watching them closely during wedge-issue votes. That will not be possible during this year’s meeting. If you want to know how your elected officials voted, you’re going to have to ask them. 

Which seems like a small price to pay to make voting easier and accessible for more people.

So, if this technology works, what does the future of town meeting look like? Will town meeting only require one evening in the future instead of two or three? And will it someday be possible for people to watch the meeting on TV and vote from home? After all, we bank from home and shop from home on our phones, why not vote from home? 

No matter how this experiment turns out, it’s clear that it opens the door for more people to participate, which can only be a good thing.

Have a great Sunday. 

The Quietest Week of the Year

It’s winter school vacation week on Nantucket. A time when the island is the least busy. Least active. Least populated. Some of us truly enjoy the quiet of this time because it feels like winter in the 80s or early 90s.

And for some, it’s a little too quiet.

If you’re a year-round islander, or if you are a seasonal person who is on vacation this week, this is a real opportunity to see what other communities are doing. It’s your chance to play tourist. 

Islanders, both year-round and seasonal, are acutely aware of what it’s like to live in a resort community (that fluctuates between “resort” and “community” at different times during the year). There is a special kind of empathy that comes with meeting a local in another place and seeing ourselves in them. Visiting in warmer climates we all resist the urge to ask, “What’s it like in the summer?” because we’ve all been asked the northern hemisphere equivalent — “What’s it like in the winter?” — far too many times.

It’s true that Nantucket is a unique place with a very different heritage and population. But many of the same problems we face are faced by other places. We have read that many ski towns out west, while not flat and surrounded by water, are challenged by too many visitors from time to time and are struggling to deal with it. Also, Kuaui in the Hawaiian islands has a shortage of year-round affordable housing that it is working very hard to solve. And Key West has seen a rise in its commuting workforce (Fortunately, or unfortunately, they have a bridge while we obviously do not). And many places around the country are struggling with the impact of the increase of short-term rentals through services like Airbnb and VRBO.

(Maybe you’re staying in just such a rental this week. Be mindful of your impact, if so.)

So your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to do a little recon in the community in which you are relaxing this week. Talk to a local or two. Find out why they live there. What their pain points are. And how their community is meeting the challenge that comes with natural beauty and seasonal popularity. 

We’d love to hear what you discover. Please email it here

And if you’re staying put this week, at least you can enjoy an extra measure of solitude and the very best parking spots at the Stop & Shop. 

Have a great Sunday. 

Island Life Survey Thoughts Part Two

Last week we talked about one of the takeaways in the recently released ReMain Nantucket and Nantucket Data Platform Island Life Survey, and this week we’d like to look at results that center around our sense of community. The basic finding is that 92% of year-round residents and 86% of seasonal residents agree or strongly agree  “There is a strong sense of community on Nantucket.” Also, 88% of year-rounders and 75% of seasonal folks agree or strongly agree that they “feel like (they are) a part of the community.”

It’s worthwhile to repeat this fact. Overwhelmingly, year-rounders and seasonal people feel there is a strong sense of community on Nantucket and they feel they are a part of the fabric of the island. When one feels they are a part of something, they take ownership of it. They value it. They protect it. 

It does not hurt to remind ourselves about the importance of community. When we put Nantucket first, we often make different decisions than when we act purely out of our own self-interest and short term gain. 

It’s why our organization exists. If we can harness a sense of community and channel it toward measures that protect the things we all love about Nantucket, powerful things can happen. 

We encourage everyone to take a look at the entire Island Life Survey. Shining a light on these kinds of findings benefits the whole community. 

Have a great Sunday. 

Island Life Survey Thoughts Part One

Last summer, Nantucket Data Platform, with the support of ReMain Nantucket, launched the Island Life Survey. The results offer great insights on community values that are based on a robust method and are weighted to the population to reflect the community as a whole. A few data points jumped out at us and either surprised us or confirmed some things we had only known to be true in our gut up until now. 

One key takeaway: people on Nantucket are passionate about local issues. 84% of men are either passionate or very passionate. 89% of women are passionate or very passionate. 

It’s great to hear the community feels so strongly about local issues. Especially considering that the pace of change in our lives can be overwhelming at times. 

But this data point also raised a few questions. The most obvious one is if everyone on the island is so passionate, why don’t we see more voter engagement? Less than 10% of registered voters on Nantucket go to Annual Town Meeting and only around 25% vote in local elections. (In contrast, 55% of voters nationwide participated in the last presidential election.) It’s clear there are roadblocks to overcome between our passionate community and public engagement, and as an organization, we hope to help remove a few of them.

Another question: If people are so passionate, what are the top issues that truly matter to them? The survey questions begin to address opinions on traffic and parking, overdevelopment and the challenges that come with growth. 

Also, looking only at the “strongly agree” results for the prompt, “I am passionate about local issues” (61% for women, 25% for men) it’s interesting to note that women are much more passionate than men on this question. Maybe women are impacted more by local issues? Maybe men are just uncomfortable talking about their feelings? (Gee, you think?) Either way, the recent surge in women running for public office at all levels, especially locally, might be a by-product of this difference and is a positive sign.

Ultimately, it has been the passion of the community that helped create ACK•Now in the first place. We believe if we can harness this passion and apply it to the right solutions, Nantucket can accomplish nearly anything. 

We would like to take a moment to commend ReMain Nantucket and The Nantucket Data Platform for taking on this important research. The more we know, the smarter our decisions as a community can be. 

Have a great Sunday.

The Fall and Rise of Annual Town Meeting

One of the facts that we find particularly compelling and one of the data points that helped us decide to form ACK•Now is the level of engagement citizens have at Annual Town Meeting. 

As you can see, the budget of the town which includes the General Fund, Airport, Our Island Home, Solid Waste Enterprise Fund, Sewer Enterprise Fund, Wannacomet Water and Siasconset Water, has grown by 260% over the past 20 years. (This data does not include capital projects, which would really make for an interesting bar graph…) Why has our budget nearly tripled? The simplest answer is that more people need more services. The year-round, seasonal and visitor populations have grown over the past 20 years and that means more people, more development, more roads, more police, more fire, more trash, more sewer and more of just about every service. 

But even with a dramatic increase in people and dollars spent by the town, the number of folks who attend the Annual Town Meeting has remained relatively flat. Here’s a snapshot of the percentage of registered voters who have attended town meetings at three milestones spanning 20 years. 

In real numbers, this graph represents 707 people in 2000, 510 in 2010 and 777 in 2019. We could speculate all day about the reasons so few attend town meeting  — and there are likely a few different reasons — the sobering fact remains that the people who go to Annual Town Meeting are dwarfed by those who for whatever reason do not attend. Here’s a visual representation: for every adult in the Mary P. Walker Auditorium at any given ATM, there are nine adults on the outside. 

If you are reading this email, and you are a registered voter, it’s highly likely you go to town meeting and engage within the process. If you are a seasonal resident who is not registered to vote here, you are probably plugged into your neighborhood homeowners association or the Civic League. Or maybe you even sit in that sequestered section off to the side at town meeting.

But, we are guessing, you probably know someone who does not go to ATM or (gasp!) has never gone. We all do. So let’s do something about this trend. Here’s a plan.

Make a list of your friends who are passionate about island issues but who don’t attend town meetings and forward them this email. Let them know that this year ATM will be a little different. First, it’s taking place on a Saturday, so people who work Monday through Friday will find it easier to attend. Also, there will be electronic voting which means no one has to endure the discomfort of voting one way or another in front of family, coworkers, and friends. There will also be no drawn-out hand counts — the meeting should move along nicely. 

Also, let them know that if they subscribe to ACK•Now, they will receive emails like this about major issues including information on key articles at town meeting. We will explain a few of the most pivotal articles in clear, jargon-free language and give a considered opinion about why a given measure is either good for the island or not.

Our goal as an organization is to make the warrant relevant and approachable to the voter and to increase participation so the entire island has a stake in the community’s success. We are all in this together, after all. 

Have a great Sunday. 

The Housing Hail Mary

We are all familiar with the law of supply and demand. When demand is high and supply is low, costs are high. But if you increase supply, costs go down. This is Economics 101 stuff. It makes perfect sense. 

Until you come to Nantucket. 

Here, demand outpaces supply to such an extent that, except in cases of extreme recessionary situations, the cost has never really gone in the opposite direction — even though the island has added about $250 million worth of residential real estate to the market every year for the last 20 years. Affordable housing is continuously getting further and further out of reach.  

In short, anyone who thinks we can grow our way out of this problem is kidding themselves. 

Okay, hold that thought. 

At the 2016 Annual Town Meeting, we voted to create the Housing Bank home rule petition. If it becomes a law, it would set aside a 0.5% fee for every dollar of a real estate sale over $2 million (it only applies to the portion over $2 million). This could give the Affordable Housing Trust the financial backing to do something impactful. At the time, it was something of a Hail Mary thrown at the Massachusetts Legislature. Some folks around the island thought that it had little likelihood of passing because we send so many home rule petitions to the statehouse, lawmakers are beginning to see us as the municipality who cried wolf. 

The goods news: some new players have recently appeared on the field. Several municipalities like Boston, Brookline, and Somerville are now working with us and Cape and Islands State Rep. Dylan Fernandez. These other communities liked our innovative and forward-thinking home rule petition so much, they came up with their own versions and now are proposing a state-wide local option.

So now there’s a chance that our Hail Mary pass could be caught for a touchdown. (That is if the Massachusetts Association of Realtors doesn’t swat it to the ground first.)

This has gotten a lot of coverage off-island but not much in our local press yet. We are keeping a close eye on it.

But, as we said before, we can’t grow our way out of our problems. Even if our Hail Mary works and the Housing Bank comes into being, it’s no silver bullet. It will still be several years before it can have a real impact on affordable housing. There’s a lot more work to be done.

In other words, the game is not yet won. We’re just going into overtime. 

Have a great week. 

2020 vision. No pun intended.

As you may know, ACK•Now, as an organization, got up and running a few months ago. We had our 501(c)(4) designation, we had a bank account, and we had a post office box. 

Since then, we’ve been working out of a temporary office space that has been cleverly disguised as a few community coffee shops. And, in addition to a couple of articles at town meeting, we’ve been working behind the scenes to develop a plan for how the organization will move forward. Here is that plan. Please click on the graphic to go to the vision statement on our web site. There’s a lot to it. Something for everyone. And more than a few ideas, big and small, to talk about.

[Click this image to read the 2020 vision statement from ACK•Now]

This vision statement will be updated and improved as new data comes to light and new ideas spring forward. But the basic tenets will remain the same. Growth. Transportation. Housing. Supporting local government. These are our four areas of focus.

In a couple of weeks, we will have actual office space at 28B Easy Street (come see us!).  Here’s how you can help moving forward:


Please continue to support our vision, give us valuable feedback, and share our content going forward. There’s no secret handshake or special decoder ring required to be a part of this movement. The more people we reach, the more we can address the island’s quality-of-life issues.


It is critically important that we raise operating revenues and the money needed to lobby and develop programs for the island. We are relying on the support of everyone within the community — year-round and seasonal. You can access our donation page here


At ACK•Now, we truly believe that a vote is just as important as a donation. So please attend Annual Town Meeting and go to the polls on election day. Encourage your friends and family members to do the same. Talk about our initiatives. Agree or disagree. But let’s have the conversation. The island is at an inflection point and with a deeper understanding, we can make the changes needed to protect what the community loves about Nantucket. 

Thank you for caring enough to read and be involved. 

Have a great Sunday.