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A Year-round Place to Live - An Interview with Philippe Jordi and Richard Leonard of the Island Housing Trust

As John Abrams, president of South Mountain Company, says in his book The Company We Keep, "The story of affordable housing is the story of long-term community sustainability."

The other day I sat down with Philippe Jordi and Richard Leonard of the Island Housing Trust to talk about the problem most of us face on this island – a shortage of available and affordable housing. Everyone here knows first-hand about the seasonal housing game of musical chairs. Finding a winter rental in the fall, out in the late spring and into a summer rental or a tent or whatever, and then as Labor Day approaches, it’s back to the classifieds, staining your fingers with newsprint in search of somewhere to land for yet another winter.

Meanwhile, most of your stuff is in storage, and maybe you’ve fallen behind on the bill, or maybe it’s in a friend’s basement like mine was once when the pipes burst. If you have kids, it’s a whole lot more complicated, and a whole lot more unsettling, when you have to do the seasonal heave ho. It’s enough to grind you down. 

No wonder it’s hard to keep the teachers and artists and small business people here. Our desire to build a sustainable island community runs smack into seasonal housing musical chairs, and somebody always seems to be left standing who we’d like to stick around here.

So I wanted to get the story from Philippe and Richard who have been working at solving this problem for years, creating places for islanders to live year-round.

Let's start with the idea of Martha's Vineyard as more than a tourist destination. How does the Island Housing Trust contribute to building a sustainable year-round community?

Philippe: Although Martha's Vineyard is commonly known for its affluent summer resort community, the reality for many of the 18,000 year-round island residents is the cost of finding a year-round home -- house prices are way over the statewide median (85% over), and rents also are way over the statewide median (30% over), and wages are way below the statewide average (27% below). That's a pretty tough formula to solve.

The Island Housing Trust is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create and sustain permanently-affordable housing solutions on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Through our work as a developer and steward of ownership and rental housing, we help bridge the gap between the Island’s high property values and what low and moderate-income working island families can afford.  

Richard: Philippe used the term “permanently affordable,” and it’s the cornerstone of our approach.  We're able to lower the initial cost of homeownership by securing grants and donations. We work with builders that understand how to build homes that are less expensive to live in and maintain. In exchange, our homeowners agree that if they should sell their home, they will sell it to another income-qualified family at an affordable price. This keeps the community together and makes home ownership or rental possible for many who would not otherwise have a chance.

How do you ensure the homes you help people buy or rent will be affordable to live in and maintain over time?

Philippe: As Richard said, the Island Housing Trust believes in designing and building simple, durable, healthy, energy efficient homes that are affordable to purchase, own, and maintain for the long-term.  We’ve done this by partnering with knowledgeable and experienced designers and builders who respect the island’s natural and built environment and who strive to build high performance homes. 

With completive state grants and knowledgeable designers and builders, the Trust has developed neighborhoods of zero-net-energy homes that have received the highest green building certifications (LEED Platinum and Energy Star Plus) in the country.  These high-performance homes have the potential to produce as much energy as the homeowners use.

Richard: Plus, the Island Housing Trust maintains a long-term commitment and relationship with its homeowners and the homes it builds. The Island Housing Trust helps ensure homeowners’ success and their home’s permanent affordability through ongoing support and stewardship services for as long as they own their home. This hands-on approach has helped safeguard against the threat of foreclosure and ensures that these homes on leased land remain affordable now and for future generations of island families.    

Over the past six years the IHT has built or sold over 50 homes to island families. What is your goal for the future?

Philippe: Our goal is to create and sustain a pool of hundreds of stable year-round affordable homes for island families and individuals.  Our current effort is to double the number of homes from 50 to 100 by 2015, by working in partnership with island towns, other housing organizations, and through the generosity of islanders who want to help other islanders.

How can islanders help? Is it only the very wealthy who can play a part?

Richard: Donations of any size are always welcome. Please don’t feel your contribution won’t make a difference, because it will. And there are many other ways your time and talents can be put to good use in advancing the cause of sustainable community housing on Martha's Vineyard. Please visit our website (www.ihtmv.org), friend us on Facebook, and contact us if you are interested in donating, or in volunteering your time and services to design, build, or raise funding for our many projects. 

Why should I, or anyone, trust the IHT to use my donation responsibly and sustainably?

Richard: There are three reasons. First, the organization itself is very well run and very lean. Second, the board of directors is diverse and includes a number of homeowners who live in the properties the IHT has built and stewards. Third, and finally, collaboration. The Island Housing Trust is an excellent collaborator with a history of close collaboration with the Land Bank, several conservation organizations, the six island towns, their selectmen and housing committees, and other housing organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity and the Dukes County Regional Housings Authority.

Philippe: I know we talked about this before before, but it bears repeating. The Island Housing Trust has a successful and proven track record of developing ownership and rental housing cost effectively and efficiently, including nearly 50 homes built across the Island over the past six years involving total project costs of $15.6 million dollars. We want to double that number of houses to 100 by 2015, as well as increase the number of rental units we can make available.

If you want to look into it further, The Trust annual report can be downloaded from its website (ithmv.org), and it shows these results.  Working with minimal overhead, more than 82% of the Trust’s investments ($679,000 in grants and $163,000 in donations) were made directly into the development and stewardship of its homes over the past two years. So we get people into year-round housing that they will be able to afford and continue to live in. That’s really what it’s all about, building a sustainable community.

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Michael West is a member of the board of directors of Island Housing Trust (and a donor).

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Holly Nadler December 19, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Michael, as Hemmingway says at the end of Death In The Afternoon (and I'm paraphrasing here because I never remember things just right): "Some good things were said here." Or maybe it was, "A few things were said that needed to be said." Or, as Woody Allen had Hemmingway muttering in Midnight in Paris, "It's good and it's true." Anyway, all of the above, good article, and good work being done by the housing people!
Michael West December 19, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Thanks, Holly. Yes, good work being done, and what's not really said here, but only implied, is that the acquisition of year-round housing transforms lives, strengthen families and gives individuals a new confidence that they can focus on things other than finding another temporary place to live. The net effect is increased self worth for the individual, cohesiveness for the family and sustainability for the community, our island.
Donald Muckerheide December 22, 2012 at 05:01 PM
It is a shame that who participates in the affordable housing business on the island is so political. I have a permit to build 12 two bedroom condos on my property at Dukes County Ave. and it can be built and rented year round without subsidy but only the people connected with the system can find funding.

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