Taking Stock of Housing -Spring 2019

The Challenge of Building a Life on Nantucket

by: Joshua H. Balling

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

Marita Scarlett and Jose Luis Bolanos have never met. But they share a bond. They’ve both had to sit down with their families and discuss the very real possibility of uprooting their lives and moving to the mainland because they couldn’t find housing.

They are among the lucky ones, though, able to stay on Nantucket thanks to one of several housing-assistance programs on the island. The journey to where they are today has been a struggle, and they are not alone.

The Scarlett family, from left, Yvie, Marita, TQ, Jay, Jermaine and Malcolm about to jump off the stoop, outside their Helen’s Drive home.

“We were at a breaking point. Our landlord had to move back in to their house, which meant we had to go,” said Scarlett, a special-education teacher in the public schools, who came to Nantucket in 2000 to work for her aunt and uncle, Jeanne and Richard Diamond, at A.K. Diamond’s restaurant. It is where she met her future husband Jermaine, a chef.

Today they have four children.

“We had a family meeting with the kids. We said we can stay here, but it would mean a real decrease in our lifestyle, with three-bedroom rentals going for about $5,000 a month,” Scarlett said.

“It meant our freshman daughter was going to have to get a job and start contributing. But even then, we couldn’t find anything, even out of our price range.”

We were really lucky, but we were also willing to make a big sacrifice to stay here.” Marita Scarlett
After several disappointments over the years – among them being turned down for a Habitat for Humanity home because another applicant demonstrated greater need – they found a way to stay last year, thanks to the covenant-housing program offered through the nonprofit Housing Nantucket, which allows property owners to subdivide their lots and sell their second dwellings or vacant land to qualified buyers at below-market prices.

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