Lobster fishermen unload their catch at Interstate Lobster Wharf in Harpswell in August 2021. Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald file photo

Young fishermen and lobstermen in Harpswell are struggling to comfortably live in the coastal community they call home.

In recent years, an increasing number of single-family homes in Harpswell have been converted to short-term rentals, posing difficulty for residents looking to afford a year-round rental.

The historic fishermen’s cottages that residents’ grandparents built are being replaced by summer homes, and many young working waterfront community members are now forced to move out of Harpswell or in with family members.

“My great-grandparents, grandparents and dad grew up in Harpswell,” said Nathan Harley, a fourth-generation lobsterman in Cundy’s Harbor. “We’ve been here for a long time and the times are changing. Maine drives on tourism, but the tourists are driving the home prices up.”

While the spring real estate market is considered to be a good time to buy a home, the average price per square foot of currently listed homes in Harpswell is nearly 155% greater than the state of Maine average, according to realtor.com ($632 vs. $248).

There are currently nine single-family homes for sale in Harpswell. The average price of these homes is $901,756, and only three of these listings are under $400,000.


“I have been renting my dad’s house for seven years now while I wait for my grandfather’s home to come up for sale,” Harley said. “My dad bought his house 30 years ago for a little over $90,000, and now it’s worth $450,000.”

For the past year and a half, the Affordable Housing Working Group in Harpswell has been working with officials as well as the community to come up with solutions for attainable housing.

In an interactive workshop hosted by the group, the consensus was that the town was becoming unaffordable for people whose families have lived here for many years.

“Participants noted that finding a small, more accessible place in Harpswell now was nearly impossible,” as referenced from the Feb. 7 report on Creating Opportunities for Attainable Housing in Harpswell.

The town’s Comprehensive Plan proposal for attainable housing construction on Mitchell Field and Doughty Point Road has been met with bigger conversations about environmental impacts.

Key points raised by residents during the open discussion at the latest Comprehensive Plan meeting were in reference to wetland destruction and groundwater protection.

Members of the community requested that officials connect with more residents who will be affected by potential zoning changes as well as conduct further studies to prevent environmental impacts.

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