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The Real Martha's Vineyard: Income Inequality and a Housing Crunch

Hard times in a land of plenty: Presidents and the ultra-rich make the Island their summer playground, but year-round residents earn 29 percent less than the average wage statewide while working extra jobs to afford sharply higher housing costs.

Cat Todd and Ben Rossi, the locals cast as characters on the TV show "The Vineyard." According to a local study on housing needs, the average wage on Martha’s Vineyard is 71 percent of the state average with housing costs sharply higher. (ABC Family)
Cat Todd and Ben Rossi, the locals cast as characters on the TV show "The Vineyard." According to a local study on housing needs, the average wage on Martha’s Vineyard is 71 percent of the state average with housing costs sharply higher. (ABC Family)
Bill O'Reilly calls our Island "Martha's Vineyard, a place of wealth."

It's a "Massachusetts elite playground," according to the British Daily Mail.


And indeed, there's a lot of wealth on the Vineyard, in season, when the elite are enjoying our home as their summer playground.

But the Associated Press, from which we used to expect a higher standard, really fell on its face when it called the Vineyard a "well-heeled Massachusetts island."

Apparently AP reporter Darlene Superville has been watching O'Reilly on Fox TV and reading British tabloids, instead of paying attention to what's really going on here.

Martha's Vineyard certainly has many well-off property and business owners along with its wealthy — sometimes very wealthy — seasonal residents and visitors.

But even the super-rich don't stay for more than a few weeks out of the year. And while these elites may define the Island in the minds of media mouthpieces who've never spent an off-season day here, we who live on the Vineyard year-round know better — and so does the Washington Post.

"The average wage on Martha’s Vineyard is 71 percent of the state average, according to a recent government report on the island’s housing needs. By contrast, rental prices are 17 percent higher and house prices are 54 percent above average," writes Billy Kenber, who visited the Vineyard as part of the White House travel pool covering President Obama's family vacation here last week.

When he wasn't riding in the press bus following the Obama motorcade, Kenber found his way to a food pantry in Vineyard Haven where dozens of families sought relief from hunger.

“We’re losing our middle class and we’re losing our young people because the jobs aren’t there and because of the cost of living and housing,” Peter Temple, executive director of Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative, told Kenber.

As reported on MV Patch earlier this year: "Market rents are not only well beyond lower wage earners, but are also too high for those earning even at median income," according to a study of housing costs on Martha's Vineyard.

The income and housing insecurity afflicting many Islanders contributes to a phenomenon Patch blogger Jen Zern described in a post called "I was on Martha's Vineyard All Summer and I Need a Vacation:"

"In tourist economies like ours, the money ebbs and flows with the crowds. Therefore (unless we’re independently wealthy) we ALL take second (and third, and fourth) jobs here during the summer. We can’t even help it. We’re on YES autopilot: Yes, I’ll work that second shift. Yes, I’ll cater that wedding on my day off. Sure, I won’t sleep for 72 hours straight. Like woodland creatures, we inherently know that this is the one and only time to gather up nuts for the cold, barren winter. Saying no is not an option – not until Labor Day."

The division between the Island's seasonal haves and year-round have-nots has even made its way into the mainstream "reality TV" show "The Vineyard."

In the first episode of the ABC Family series, shot on the Island earlier this year, Vineyard resident Cat Todd scorns "summer girl" Sophi Alvarez, who's never had a job before arriving at the Black Dog Tavern as a young adult.

Cat started working at 13, she tells Sophi, because she "needed the money."

And unlike Sophi — who's rooming in the impossibly sweet East Chop rental that plays the role of the Black Dog workers' dorm — Cat is still living at home with her mom, with whom she hasn't been getting along.

Island housing advocates have been sounding the alarm for years and the Vineyard does have some programs to help Islanders find year-round homes they can afford.

But, writes Kenber, some on the Vineyard see the Island's middle class as rapidly disappearing.

Do you agree? Is the Island becoming a place of haves and have-nots? What can we do about it? Tell us in the comments.

[Editor's note: Billy Kenber, who wrote the article for the Washington Post cited above, is actually a reporter with the Times of London, according to the Post.]
Captain Patrick King August 22, 2013 at 10:46 AM
Thank you Paul Antonelli: Just FYI i have never missed and voted in a O.B. town meeting. Spoke in opposition on many advancing illogical warrant articles funding the non-tax paying non citizens of a working class of Americans. Also never missed a November state or National election. Might just sail to a westIndes independent Island Nation where you have to pay off only one level of government crooks at the customs instead of our multilevel of local ,state and National. Much cheaper and you even have a face to face with the criminal stealing your hard earned risk and rewarded retirement. Cpt/Coach PJK
Paul Antonelli August 22, 2013 at 11:12 AM
Captain, If you need a first mate let me know. i like your plan
Kimberly Burke, D.C. August 22, 2013 at 11:57 AM
1) Women's voting rights. There were Dems against this too. See JB Sanford. 2) "Social justice" and wealth "sharing" - perhaps if Roosevelt kept his "promises" or didn't actually violate the original social security contract, he might have more support from the Repubs. 3) Labor unions etc. Even Huffpo reports that in 1956 Repubs supported unions, in 1960 supported collective bargaining. They supported abortion rights in 1976. Lets not also forget Lincoln, a republican was for emancipation, republicans also helped write the 13/14/15th amendments. In 1896 the GOP helped write the 19th. While Dems supported the Confederacy and blacks couldn't attend the Dem caucus until 1924. Although eventually B.Goldwater ruined it by voting against the civil rights act of 1964. 4) Evironmental responsibility is supported by some arms of the Repub. party. See ConservAmerica. They support the clean air act, renewable energy and helped block oil drilling.
steve auerbach August 22, 2013 at 12:51 PM
Kimberly, of course there have always been "some" progressive Republicans, and my point doesn't go back as far as Lincoln and Reconstruction. We're talking about the 20th century to the present, and perhaps the division isn't as much Dem. vs. Rep. as liberal vs. conservative. There once was such as thing as moderate Republicans- Richard Nixon signed an important expansion of Social Security and Medicare. He would be branded a RINO today by the ideological purists.
James August 22, 2013 at 01:45 PM
How does the article put focus on Fox and O, when Pres. Obama is the one who is hanging out there on yet another vacation like royalty, as so many rich MA democrats do? Typical, but an article that is still relevant in spite of the bias and unneeded remarks.
Mongo August 22, 2013 at 01:54 PM
Didn't people flee England for the same problems we are being faced with today? Just a thought.
Scottilla August 22, 2013 at 02:31 PM
Come on! We're talking about a resort here. People don't have the "right" to live in a resort. If they want to live there, and work for the season, then stay when there's nothing else to do, that's their choice. Nobody is responsible for their care. Just suppose someone came and built "affordable housing", and somehow, only sold or rented it to native islanders, that would impact the charm of the island, and some of the tourists might decide to vacation somewhere else.(sorry, shades of Atlas Shrugged). The point I am trying to make is that people can choose to live where they want, and more often than not, they choose a place because there are jobs there. Get rid of the jobs (i.e. tourists) and there's no reason to live there, no matter how beautiful is it.
Donald Eugene Putnam Jr. August 22, 2013 at 02:44 PM
The truthful headline should read..... While the Richies Relaxes at the Vineyard, Locals Scrape By
steve auerbach August 22, 2013 at 02:46 PM
Scotilla, Yes, people sometimes come here for work, but it's silly to have a job, even a year-round one, in such a distorted housing market. And what about kids who grow up here and want to stay; even rents are astronomical to say nothing about attempting to purchase a home. No one is suggesting that we provide "free" housing to anyone, but it would be nice if folks could rent a decent place for less than two-thirds of their monthly income. At the Food Pantry, there are many folks who have to get donated food because most of their working income goes to pay their rent. This is supposed to be a community, not an everyone for themselves only, a la Ayn Rand.
Scottilla August 22, 2013 at 02:59 PM
Steve Auerbach, You're saying that like the kids have a right to live somewhere that they can't afford. Face it, they can't afford it. I also live in a very expensive place, New York City. I enjoy it immensely, and work hard to afford it. I'd love to stay after I retire, but if I can't afford it, I'll look elsewhere. Yes, it would be nice to be able to live in a resort (MV) or an amusement park (NYC) but not everyone can, and nobody is entitled to. They make choices.
steve auerbach August 22, 2013 at 03:19 PM
Scotilla, I guess we'll agree to disagree. Your laissez-faire approach guarantees that people will live in substandard housing. The housing market has become unrealistic for working people. So you say, "Then move away if you can't afford to live here" The result of that would be that the summer people wouldn't get the services they need and either they would learn to "do it yourself", or they would find it too much of a hassle to vacation here and they would sell (I really don't know what would happen, but there is a co-dependent relationship between workers and summer people that would certainly get disrupted if the workers left.). If the tourist economy declined the towns on the Island would lose a lot of revenue (perhaps a new equilibrium would eventually result but it would surely be a painful transition) and many businesses would fail. Rather than that scenario occurring I would prefer to see some help in housing given in order to retain the Island's workforce.
Rodger Higgins August 22, 2013 at 07:29 PM
So people are scrimping, saving, missing meals and making clothes last as long as possible while Obama and crew spending 10+ million on a family vacation. Makes you wonder why so many think of him highly! I think of him and his family as whale excrement.
moshulu August 22, 2013 at 07:50 PM
All of you people complaining about President Obama is absolutely pathetic! Come on now, I've been to MV a number of times, MV is full of rich, super-rich people before Obama was born so why even bring him into the equation? Tell you the truth if people like the President, me and other tourists didn't visit your island you'd be in worst shape than now. An American President, visiting your island, bring revenue as in tourist dollars, and you still complain. Why do you people hate this man so much? “We’re losing our middle class and we’re losing our young people because the jobs aren’t there and because of the cost of living and housing,” Peter Temple, executive director of Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative, told Kenber." When you actually look at the facts, it's the 1%ers and their lynch-men, the republicans, who are union busters, but what's interesting is the power they show you they have by going after the very people who are entrusted with your children, your personal safety, and your property. The cry of overpaid teachers, firemen, and cops are the republican’s battle cry for starving unions. Now tell me they (super rich and their patsy republicans) don't have power and flaunting it in your face. It is unions which give this country the middle class, the very back-bone of this country.
Paul Antonelli August 22, 2013 at 08:40 PM
Hey Rodger respect the office if not the man! FYI Rodger, Dick Cheneys security THAT WE PAY FOR!!! is 4 times greater then Obama"s detail and since your such a wonderful "right winger" Why is it that Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfewitz are still free men and not sitting rotting in a cell where they belong for war crimes? Tell me that? And before you label me as a bleeding heart liberal remember this, I think they are ALL scumbags, left and right, but justice is justice and Mitch McConnell should be held for treason since he said his only job since Obama got elected is to get him out of office. THAT"S A REAL AMERICAN! . Get a clue, and pull your head out of your ass! PLEASE, stop being part of the problem and join the solution.
Paul Antonelli August 22, 2013 at 08:43 PM
I don't know why I bother explaining the facts to such ignorant people. They will never get it, poorly educated I guess and more of sheeple then people. Thank god I was an independent thinker at the age of 7.
steve auerbach August 22, 2013 at 10:15 PM
Rodger Higgins, you are one sick man. Your ignorance is appalling, your venom is disturbing. You must have been pretty angry over the last election... all that socialist indoctrination has gotten to the ignorant masses, I guess. Well, get used to it mister... I think it's a trend.
Rodger Higgins August 22, 2013 at 10:21 PM
Paul Antonelli -- Read your own words and then you will maybe understand why you are labeled as a bleeding heart liberal leftist socialist lemming. Now, since you never mentioned any of the left why is Clinton, both Bill and Hillary not I prison/ Bill for allowing the 9/11 terrorists into the United States under his watch that killed 3,000+ in the WTC and Hillary for her [art in the murders of the 4 ,men in Benghazi? Why is Obama not in prison for his role in the Benghazi murders and his dereliction of his duties as well as the civilians killed in his drone attacks. I respect the office when respect is earned. Obama has disgraced the White House like Clinton did with his sexual antics so no respect for them or the office they sat in. Both should have been imprisoned and Obama tried and shot for treason. So when you advance from your liberal leftist socialism mind set you may be allowed in the human race.
Rodger Higgins August 22, 2013 at 10:45 PM
Steve Auerbach -- I read some of you other dribble and I agree, FDR left this country and the economy in very shabby condition and when Carter got hold of it, they couldn't accurately measured the amount of sh*t that was hitting the fanS. This also included Carters initiation of the sub prime program that was eventually shoved down banks throats by Clinton until he realized how much damage it was doing but to late because the libs in congress wouldn't back off I guess Franks boyfriend and Dodd's rates on his home were to much temptation as both as chairs to oversee turned away on purpose. Yet neither of them or anyone was charged with the failure of fannie and Freddie. We can talk hours about these short comings but you as an attendee of the Liberal Left Socialist University and your narrowly focused blinders can't see the forest for all of the trees. OBomba has taken the pressure off of Carter and IS THE WORST PRESIDENT IN HISTORY which made Carter fart freely and smile a lot. Now about President Bush, he made some mistakes but by and large did a decent job. People like you think he should be up on war crimes but never have mentioned FDR should have been for Pearl Harbor (he purposely slept knowing the warning of the japanese) when our men and women were killed. No mention of Johnson and Kennedy for Vietnam just you hate filled slams against Republicans. So grow up, open your eyes, learn the truth and maybe there is hope for you.
Paul Antonelli August 23, 2013 at 06:55 AM
Well thank you Rodger for the threats on the President of the United States. I will be sure to pass that along to my cousin is the Secret Service after I am done typing your warranted response. Again you are part of the problem, selfish, and self centered. Sounds like Ted Cruz or Ted Nugent , or Ted Bundy (with your threats to the President) but not Ted the cuddly talking stuffed animal that had a hit movie out because you are to stupid for that. Enjoy your time at Guantanamo , you know the place ,your boys built it. LOL, the knock on your door well you better answer it.
Paul Antonelli August 23, 2013 at 06:59 AM
And Rodger , every response you post (which after today will most likely be your last) shows just how ignorant you are. So Clinton is to blame for 9/11? Are you sure your not some 10 yr old kid? You certainly seem that way. I'll find out from my cousin, cause I just sent him the link to your this page. Good luck with all the horror you are about to embark.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) August 23, 2013 at 07:23 AM
We seem to be wandering off the topic of my original post, which was intended to show that Martha's Vineyard is not solely the "place of wealth" a lot of people think it is. It hasn't always been a resort. Generations before off-Islanders started coming here in the summer, the Vineyard sustained a year-round population of farmers, fishermen, whalers, boat builders and other craftsmen, their families and the merchants who served them. The Wampanoag people were already here when an English explorer bent on expansion "discovered" the Island in 1602. Many of the descendants of these Islanders still live here today, but not necessarily in conditions of wealth. And there is poverty here, even in the summer, as Billy Kenber of the Times of London reported in the Washington Post. The question of my bias is answered, beyond any need for further elaboration, in the tone and content of the comments raising it.
jack schimmelman August 23, 2013 at 08:59 AM
Ms. Hufstader is absolutely correct. Her point of view has nothing to do with Obama or politics. In fact, Dukes County is one of the poorest counties in Massachusetts. In my previous incarnation on this island 35 years ago it was the poorest county. It has high rates of alcoholism and other symptoms of lives in poverty. Yes, many of us choose to live here. Then there are those who have lived here generations who are literally being priced off the island. As I previously said, this is an outrage. It would be anywhere else, as well. A good reference for life here in the early 20th century (from the 1920's on) is the life and paintings of Thomas Hart Benton. He greatly admired the people with whom he was friends and observed. He said that the majority of people he met were fishermen and farmers. As most of you know Banks' history is also a very good reference for how this island community has developed. I would suggest to those who insist on being publicly abusive through their use of language that the only thing you reveal is your own character. Let's try to be civil to each other on this very public space.
steve auerbach August 23, 2013 at 09:41 AM
Paul Antonelli and other sane people, I think Louisa is right... we have all been going off topic, even if we have only reacted to the ridiculous comments by the sore losers. Perhaps it's time to stop responding to the likes of Rodger Higgins, who could be, after all, just a prankster, and is, in any case, not worth our time.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) August 23, 2013 at 09:42 AM
Thank you, Jack, for your perceptive comments. I appeal to all readers of this thread to use the "Flag as inappropriate" button on comments whenever it seems necessary. If enough people flag a comment as inappropriate, it will automatically be removed from the thread.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) August 23, 2013 at 09:51 AM
And Steve is right: Feeding trolls only makes them hungrier.
Rodger Higgins August 23, 2013 at 12:44 PM
Steve Auerbach, Paul Anatolli, Louisa Hufstader -- None of you leftist socialists are sane and Steve thank you, I didn't ask for your sick commentary in the first place nor did I ask for Paul or his whining to his cousin or Louisa. So please do stop responding to me as it would be greatly appreciated so I don't have to waste my time replying to idiotic banter.
Andy McMand August 23, 2013 at 01:49 PM
Roger, ""I'm with you""! We might be out numbered and surrounded on this island *BUT* , old U.S. Marine Chesty Puller once said ===>> "We're surrounded. That simplifies the problem.". They're on our left, they're on our right, they're in front of us, they're behind us...they can't get away this time"!!! - Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, USMC ************************************* "Don't forget that you're First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!" !!! ************************************* "Our Country won't go on forever, if we stay soft as we are now. There won't e any AMERICA because some foreign soldiery will invade us and take our women and breed a hardier race!" -Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, USMC ************************************ "Our Country won't go on forever, if we stay soft as we are now. There won't be any AMERICA because some foreign soldiery will invade us and take our women and breed a hardier race!" -Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, USMC - Chesty Puller motivating his men at Chosin Reservoir ************************************ PS. Note; General Downs, USMC is from Oak Bluffs married Chesty's daughter! I am quite sure he is Shames to also see what has happened to our island!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!! I CANT WAIT TO SEND MY POSTS FROM A *RED* STATE BUT I MUST WANT UNTIL THE ECONOMY IMPROVES SO I CAN LIQUIDATE!!!
chris gargan August 24, 2013 at 04:25 PM
John has a poor memory. The Chinese and North Koreans pushed the vaunted US military back to the 38th parallel. Bluster and puffery only gets you so far.
E Michael Richards January 15, 2014 at 03:02 PM
We are having this same conversation in Provincetown. Good luck with your "class warfare" it can lead no where good.
jack schimmelman January 15, 2014 at 03:35 PM
I'm glad so many people are involved in this discussion. When I lived here previously, Dukes County was the poorest county in Mass. Today, I believe it's moved up a notch or two. Poverty is invisible here and much of that is by design. The middle class vanishes into ether. It is a scandal that people get priced out of their homes that have been in their family for generations. It is a scandal that in the richest country of the world so many of us go hungry and that fact is highlighted here by the temporary influx of wealth each year. And Mr. Richards the only people engaged in class warfare are the rich. They are the ones frantically looking for offshore tax-free havens for their wealth. The 1% urges congress (mostly Republicans) to cut back on benefits for the most vulnerable of us; those who have no lobbyists, no voice in Washington. I don't know the answer. I know that there are efforts here to level the playing field, but there is so much more to do. And Mr. Richards, if you are so against class warfare, why not go to the people who are systematically diminishing the middle class and beg them to stop. Because the middle class is the buffer between the fabulously wealthy and hopeless poor. If that part of our culture disappears or becomes as thin as our ozone layer, then I we all better find shelter from a storm that will quickly go out of control. here is my article about growing up in poverty in this country and the disappearing middle class. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jack-schimmelman/poverty_1_b_4516012.html

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