Editorial: Time to reassess on housing

Time to reassess

This page does not share the views of those who have imputed the vilest motives to leaders of the private nonprofit housing groups, whose efforts have been weakened so badly during the past five months.

We do not think those leaders have been feathering their own nests, hiding their financial affairs from the public, tramping heedlessly on the views of Islanders or of neighbors to their housing projects. We do not think that these organizations have ignored the fundamental missions, in pursuit of which they were formed.

We do think that the performance of these organizations and the straightened economic times that they and we all must endure require reassessment. That’s why it was heartening to learn, as we did last week, in an MV Times news story written by Steve Myrick, that the remaining leaders and staff of Island Affordable Housing Fund (IAHF) and Island Housing Trust (IHT) have begun reviews of their organizations’ structures and governance policies.

The lay and professional leadership of IAHF is most notoriously in need of new direction, and we’re confident that John Early of West Tisbury, a solid citizen of his town and the Island as a whole, with a history of clarity, commitment, and common sense, will bring IAHF what it needs.

The trust, whose performance since the battle over Bradley Square ended, has not included the outright failure and ignominy that IAHF has endured, wisely recognizes the trials of its sister organization as a signal to reexamine its own house.

To be helpful, these reassessments should include an examination of the sort of people who may be invited to join the boards of each organization. There must be rules, accepted by board and staff, governing performance and conflict. There needs to be board training for new members and continuing education for the board as a whole in the business of being board members on small, private nonprofits.

There needs to be a public examination of the affordable housing needs that these two organizations were created to address. Have we learned anything about those needs — not merely the dimensions but the nature of the need — in the decade since affordable housing became a hot issue? The public needs to better understand how these two private nonprofits relate to, but are different from, one another, and from the public Regional Housing Authority. There needs to be extensive education of town governments and voters as to the obligations they have incurred for several sorts of affordable housing funding, particularly from a diminishing flow of Community Preservation Act funds. And, there needs to be a hard-boiled assessment of the ways in which economic development and housing affordability are intertwined.

The affordable housing effort on Martha’s Vineyard needs a refocused understanding of its mission, of the tools available to help, and of the broader economic need that complicates and frustrates the hard housing work at every turn.