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  • Elise Hickey

Nantucket’s Picture-Perfect Paradox 

Updated: Feb 26

By Elise Hickey: 11/23/23 

Nantucket Noel 2022
Nantucket Noel 2022

The holiday season in New England, with its quintessential charm, transforms towns and cities into picturesque winter wonderlands. Nantucket, MA, epitomizes this magical transformation, especially during its celebrated Nantucket Noel. The island ignites the festive spirit with the enchanting Tree Lighting on Main Street, kicking off at dusk on November 24, 2023. This event marks the beginning of a season filled with joyous celebrations, twinkling lights, and a sense of community warmth that is uniquely New England. The historic cobblestone streets of Nantucket, adorned with festive decorations and shimmering lights, create a postcard-perfect setting, inviting visitors and residents alike to revel in the holiday cheer. 

However, Nantucket reveals a contrasting reality beyond its idyllic postcard appearance. The island's charming holiday visage, while alluring to visitors and residents, masks an underlying crisis. Driven by skyrocketing prices and a lack of affordable housing, the local housing market is creating significant challenges. This situation is drastically affecting staffing across various sectors and threatening the very fabric of the community, undermining the harmonious image Nantucket typically presents during the festive season. 

A Surge in Real Estate Prices 

Known for its picturesque landscapes, Nantucket has become a sought-after location for luxury properties. This demand is driven by high-net-worth individuals seeking exclusive vacation homes or permanent residences in distinguished areas. The COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of remote work have led many to seek properties in more secluded, scenic locations. Therefore, Nantucket, with its charm and tranquility, has become a prime destination for those looking to escape busier urban environments.Unfortunately, the island's limited land area and strict zoning regulations restrict the supply of new housing. This scarcity, combined with high demand, naturally drives up property prices. 

The housing market on Nantucket has seen dramatic increases. In 2021, real estate transactions rose by 13%, and total sales dollar volume surged by 19% compared to 2020, pushing the average selling price to around $3.6 million¹. By late 2023, this trend intensified, with the average home selling for approximately $4.03 million and the median listing price reaching $5 million, a 25% jump from the previous year²³. Alongside the sales market, rental prices have soared, with the median annual rent reaching $30,000 by October 2023. This spike reflects both the increased cost of owning property on the island and the growing demand for short-term rentals, particularly during the tourist season⁴. 

The Ripple Effect on Staffing and the Community 

The high cost of living on Nantucket is more than just a housing issue; it's a community crisis and a paradox as well. As high-net-worth individuals purchase the island’s stunning homes, they drive out the islanders who they might seek to run them.  

The working class, or the middle class, while essential to the island's functioning, finds itself in a precarious position. They earn too much to qualify for affordable housing yet too little for market rates. As a result, domestic staff and crucial workers such as nurses, firefighters, and teachers are forced to relocate⁷. Despite efforts to increase affordable housing, the supply is not keeping pace with the burgeoning population⁶. Additionally, since affordable living options are so limited, potential new residents are deterred from moving to Nantucket for work, leading to prolonged vacancies in various positions, further straining the staffing situation⁹. 

In the meantime, those who do have year-round housing are increasingly learning that their landlords are selling out and taking advantage of the skyrocketing real estate market.  

The island has resorted to remote working arrangements for some of its municipal employee positions. While this is a quick fix for some positions, it brings with it new complications such as differing state regulations for employment benefits⁸ and the fact that there are too many jobs where remote work is simply not an option. As is the case with domestic staffing positions such as housekeepers, house managers, gardeners, and private chefs. The paradox is that those who can afford to purchase these high-priced homes, are doing so at the peril of their home staffing expectations.  

Nantucket’s housing market crisis is not just a series of statistics; it’s a growing concern that affects the very essence of the community. Addressing this crisis requires a holistic approach that involves expanding affordable housing, fostering a community environment that supports all residents, and considering live-in positions when possible. Only then can Nantucket maintain its postcard-like charm and vitality for all future generations. 

¹ NANTUCKET REAL ESTATE. (2021). Market Insights by Jen Allen. 

² The Maury People. (2023). Nantucket Real Estate Market Statistics. 

³ Great Point Properties. (2023). The Nantucket Real Estate Market. 

⁴ Zillow. (2023). Average Rental Price in Nantucket, MA & Market Trends. 

⁵®. (2023). Nantucket, MA 2023 Housing Market. 

⁶ Air Mail. (2023). Nantucketers Battle Over Surfside Crossing & Beach Plum Village Developments. 

⁷ Ibid. 

⁸ The Martha's Vineyard Times. (2023). Vineyard and Nantucket Talk Housing, Staffing Issues. 

⁹ Ibid. 


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