Joan Harris, contributing writer
Nantucket has historically been a place well known for the elevated real estate prices and high cost of living, so much so that many year-round residents label their living status the “Nantucket Shuffle,” as they are forced to move every year to afford to live on the island. The shortage of housing is indisputable and poses a serious threat to the integrity of the island’s workforce, culture, and livelihood. As of 2021, the average home price on Nantucket is 2.2 million dollars, almost a full 2 million more than the country’s average, not to mention the cost of living per year rounds off at about 150,000 dollars for a family of four, as opposed to $85,000. Even so, the
median home cost on the island is disproportionately larger and shows a much bigger deficit than any other living necessity, such as healthcare, groceries, and utilities, when compared to that of America’s as a whole. The housing prices on Nantucket are 3.8 times more than Massachusetts’s average, and 6.7 more than the country’s average. Other necessities, like groceries, stand at 1.1 more than Massachusetts, and 1.23 more than the country.
Additionally, it would be careless to negate the fact that Nantucket’s median teacher salary is actually lower than the state average. The District of Nantucket’s average teacher salary is 78,479 dollars, while the Massachusetts average is 84,659. Combined with the astronomical price of accommodations, making a secure living on Nantucket is a difficult problem for teachers.
Although most on Nantucket are hurt by this inflated economy, a group that, consistently, year
after year, are negatively affected by this epidemic are the teachers at the island’s public schools. Nantucket’s own educators are unable to find a secure, reliable place to live, even as they are arguably some of the island’s most important individuals. Teachers are notorious for being undervalued, underpaid, and overworked. Even with Nantucket’s above-median salary, the price of rentals is unreasonable, and extremely difficult to attain, especially for those in teaching occupations who are already at a disadvantage with income. This added obstacle is one of the main causes of the island’s shortage in teachers.
This problem has a long, strenuous history on Nantucket, and an article from the New York Times published in 1965 stamps the island’s public school “unfit to accommodate a professionally competent teacher.” (New York Times). It makes sense that the schools are lacking the appropriate teaching standards; the island is entirely unable to facilitate these educators with hospitable facilities. Kimberly Dias, a special education teacher at NHS, says, “There have been many faculty members that have left Nantucket because their housing situation has become too difficult to deal with, or moving from place to place has lost its appeal.”
Almost every teacher at the school has (or have had) their own, personal trials and tribulations
with the inadequate housing situation. Jonelle Gurley has been an active member of Nantucket’s community ever since she landed the job of biology and chemistry teacher at NHS eight years ago. Since then, she has become the assistant coach of the girl’s volleyball team and an integral part of her student’s lives. Unfortunately, as instrumental as she is in the island’s activities and solidarity, she has been unable to make Nantucket her home and suffers from the pervasive issue of housing insufficiency.
She comments that “nothing on this island is promised to you unless you own it and can afford it inherently. I have paid ridiculous rental prices, especially most recently, just to be able to do my job and exist within my means. This is not sustainable or practical for adults wanting to establish themselves appropriately.”
In addition to the hardships and stress associated with perpetual moving, Gurley has been forced to relocate one of her dogs to conform to her one housing option. Soon, she says, she will seek employment elsewhere, preferably at a place with more hospitable living possibilities, and is already planning to move by the end of the year if a suitable place on the island does not arise.
The administration does attempt to ameliorate the difficulties by way of various programs and outlets, such as the Nantucket Education Trust (NET), which offers housing opportunities to new hires. Still, the issue persists.
This problem is so omnipresent it is hard to say when it will end, if it ever does. For now, you can reach out to faculty and administration to try and be a part of the resolution.