Providing Housing for Year-Round Fishers Island Residents
Over thirty years ago, it became clear to a group of the Fishers Island community that the Island faced a very serious problem. Primarily because of rapidly rising real estate costs, the year-round population was steadily declining. If the adult population decreased further, it was clear that critical services such as the fire department, the EMT team, and the utility company could no longer be sustained without a significant change to both the character of the Island and the cost at which such vital community services could be provided. Furthermore, if the child population declined, the school would no longer be viable making it even more difficult for the Island to sustain a year-round community.
To address this problem, a not-for-profit corporation, the Walsh Park Benevolent Corporation was formed. The stated mission of the organization was, and remains, to promote the viability of the year-round community of Fishers Island by creating and maintaining a supply of attractive and affordable year-round housing.
At its inception, nearly $2 million was raised to purchase a 24 acre parcel of land near North Hill on which 12 free-standing homes were constructed.
Over the years, with the financial support of many, the organization has purchased additional single family homes and apartments and now has 27 living units; over half of which are owner-occupied with the balance being rental units.
THE CURRENT PROGRAM
The properties are only made available to year-round residents of the Island who are active contributing members of the community.
There is a formal application and interview process in which feedback from the community is solicited. If approved, an applicant is eligible to purchase – or rent – a Walsh Park owned home on a subsidized basis.
Walsh Park always retains ownership of the land. The house may only be resold at a formula price to others who have been approved as prospective owners by Walsh Park. This mechanism allows a year-round resident to enjoy the benefits of home ownership, but also insures the ongoing presence of reasonably priced housing available exclusively to the year-round population.
This approach is successful and has since been copied by other island communities.
60+ people live in Walsh Park homes – approximately 25% of the year-round population.
17+ residents serve on the Fishers Island Fire Department, are EMTs, and/or Sea Stretcher volunteers – nearly half the complement of these valuable services.
14+ residents attend the school – approximately 40% of the year-round student body (excluding magnet students).
AN ONGOING EFFORT
Although tremendous strides have been made over the last quarter century, the fundamental problem Walsh Park sought to address remains an ongoing threat to the Island. The current year-round population is now approximately 230 and the number of Island residents who attend the school has fallen to approximately 30 children. In short, the year-round population of the island is still very much at risk.
The lack of a strong and growing year-round population will lead directly to an inability to effectively staff critical services such as the Fire Department, the EMT team, and the utility company. If the island must resort to outside providers for these vital community services, all island residents will feel the impact in terms of availability, quality and cost.
It is our organization’s belief that if Fishers Island is to remain a place can all enjoy, while also feeling confident that crucial services it needs to thrive can be adequately provided, we must continue to support and maintain a vibrant year-round community.