A steep hill to climb
The frustration expressed by the Chilmark selectmen over the pace and the pitfalls of their effort to complete a town-funded, town-managed effort to build 12 affordable housing units is understandable. Many a well-meaning housing developer has passed this way before.
It's been so long, you may have forgotten this Chilmark contribution to the inadequate stock of affordable shelter. (You're forgiven.) Although different in size and scope, the Middle Line Road project is similar in its municipal underpinnings to the Morgan Woods project in Edgartown. Supported by voters, as the Chilmark effort is, funded in part by taxpayers, or with town-owned assets, Morgan Woods was a tough job well done. Well done, that is, by an affordable housing development outfit from off-Island, the buildings pre-built in a huge factory in Maine. The Morgan Woods housing units are now occupied.
The Middle Line Road project, less than 20 percent the size of the Morgan Woods development, has been four years in the preparation stage. Since voters agreed, in September 2004, to fund a $45,000 feasibility study for the Middle Line project, the town has spent $651,400 on the project, and the state has kicked in $356,000. According to a recent town report, the estimate of additional costs totals $508,900. That's a whopping $1,516,300, or nearly $130,000 per unbuilt housing unit.
Six of the Middle Line units will be single-family, stand-alone houses, to be built by the families on lots carved from the 21 acres. Construction of three duplex rental units will be funded by the town, then leased to qualifying tenants on affordable terms.
"All we are trying to do is give some families affordable housing in Chilmark, and it is unbelievable how difficult this is," Frank Fenner, Chilmark selectman, said this week, as he and his selectman colleagues continued their scamper down the regulatory gantlet, wishing and hoping for that elusive final approval.
"It has become much more complicated than I ever dreamed possible, that is for sure," Warren Doty, the chairman of the board of selectmen and a determined advocate for the project, said this week.
The club of public-spirited non-profit affordable housing developers frustrated by complicated, expensive, and time-consuming regulatory oversight, not to mention legal challenges, has a large and growing membership. Mr. Doty and his colleagues are only the most recent inductees.
Between the costs in public and philanthropic dollars, the headaches and delay afflicting nearly every affordable initiative, and the poor match between small town governments and the complicated work of real estate development, it is once again time to ask, as we have asked so many times before, whether there is a better way to meet the Vineyard's affordable housing need.