Eight possible applicants, all would-be homeowners, attended a seminar Saturday hosted by Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard. The goal was to assist families interested in buying one of three houses to be built on Bailey Park Road in West Tisbury. Habitat plans to build one house a year on the site for the next three years.
Habitat staff and board members, as well as Philippe Jordi, director of the Island Housing Trust (IHT), attended the meeting held at Flatbread Restaurant at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. IAHT holds 99-year ground leases on the property.
Habitat executive director Neal Sullivan said that the above-average cost of living on the Island and the below-average wages have together created an affordable living gap that Habitat has been working to alleviate since its founding in 1996.
Habitat offers income-eligible home buyers (for example, a family of four with an income at or below 80 percent of the median income on the Island) an interest-free, 20-year mortgage. Habitat serves as the lender. With the sweat equity investment of the homeowner as well as community volunteers, plus the donation of labor and materials from contractors, Habitat is able to build energy-efficient homes for less than the cost on the open market.
For example, a $150,000 Habitat house might be valued at $550,000 on the open market, according to Habitat officials.
The presentation included a brief slide show about the Habitat organization and the design of the houses to be built in West Tisbury (available at mvtimes.com).
The first house will be a three-bedroom, two-bath 1,344-square foot ranch on a 1.6-acre parcel. The house will cost $201,000, a price set by the West Tisbury Affordable Housing Committee and approved by the selectmen.
The other two houses to be built are similar in design to those completed at 250 State Road: one is a three-bedroom, two-bath Cape Cod design of 1,450 square-feet on a .93-acre lot, and the other is a two-bedroom, one-bath or one-and-a-half-bath Cape of 1,254 square-feet on a .89-acre lot.
On October 12, Habitat held a community outreach meeting for abutting Bailey Park Road project property owners as required by its contract with West Tisbury. No neighbors attended.
On October 14, the West Tisbury zoning board of appeals approved the construction project on the three nonconforming lots.
Bailey Park applications are due in the Habitat office October 21. The Dukes County Housing Authority will review the eligibility financial information that must be provided, and then the Habitat family selection committee will begin the process of conducting home visits to select an income-eligible family.
Mr. Sullivan explained the process. Several home visits are conducted by Habitat officials to determine which applicant family is most in need of the Habitat house based on a variety of factors that include rent compared to income and the conditions of the rental unit.
A family headed by one adult is expected to provide 350 hours of sweat-equity (family and friends may help meet that goal). A family with two adults must provide 500 hours of sweat-equity. Prior to closing, the home buyer must provide a $4,000 down payment, pre-pay 12 months of homeowner’s insurance premiums and pay the $250 annual homeowners’ association fee.
“This is a hand up not a hand out,” Mr. Sullivan said.
“It is the role of the IAHT to act as stewards to make sure that the house and the property remain affordable for generations,” Mr. Jordi said. “The homeowner may transfer the property to a spouse or children but they must be income-eligible at the time of the transfer,” he said.
Habitat board president and Oak Bluffs selectman Ron DiOrio said, “Do not take yourself out of consideration because of credit issues. It is the mission of Habitat to help you succeed. What is critical is that you submit an application.” He explained that the application process is blind. The board members never know the identify of the applicant.
Anthony Piland of West Tisbury, chairman of the Habitat family selection committee, discussed the selection process. “That is still on the table,” he said of the use of a lottery in making the awards. “We are going to stay with our pre-selection process, unless we have two families with the same need.” If that were the case, a lottery would be held.
The West Tisbury Affordable Housing Committee prefers that the winner be selected by lottery. There is no requirement that the person selected be born on the Island or live on the Island for a certain number of years.
A potential applicant asked if West Tisbury residents would be given preference. Habitat board member and co-chairman of the building committee Andre Mallegol of Edgartown said, “There is a strong preference by the town that the homeowner be a West Tisbury resident or worker, and we are going to do the best we can to honor that.”
Another potential applicant said some contractors on the Island thought Habitat had built houses that were too nice. Mr. Mallegol said that he had heard that criticism. “We build homes that are as nice as we can, depending on the money and the donations we receive,” he said.
There will be no solar panels on the Bailey Park homes, because there are no longer state funds for solar projects, Mr. Mallegol said. Although homeowners cannot change the design of the home, if they are able to secure an upgrade in materials, including hardwood flooring, countertops, or paint, this is welcomed.
A potential applicant asked if the first house would have a full basement and was told that every house Habitat has built in the past decade has had a full basement. “Our role is to be sure that the house will be there for 100 years, and that is how well it is built,” Mr. DiOrio said.
Martha Kane, 36, of Vineyard Haven is a 911 operator at the Sheriff’s Department Communication Center. Ms. Kane said she annually is part of the “housing shuffle.” Currently she pays $750 a month rent to share a rented house with her mother, brother, sister-in-law, and niece. She said it’s been nice for the time being, but not for the long term. An apartment for herself would cost $1,000 to $1,100 a month.
The moment the Bailey Park Project was publicized, Ms. Kane began the application process. But, she knows that as a single woman her chances of selection are slim. “I am eligible in every other way. I work in West Tisbury, and I am employed as the ‘essential personnel’ that they talk about. Everyone I work with has gotten some kind of affordable housing.”
Mr. DiOrio told Ms. Kane, “It is possible, but the reality is that the committee has historically chosen families with kids because the need is greater.”
A husband and wife who attended the meeting asked not to be named, but they said they do intend to apply for the three-bedroom house. They have been living in an affordable two-bedroom rental apartment for eight years. Now, with two children, ages six and eight, “It is getting a little small.”
Both parents are now fully employed and so, the husband said, “With stable employment we know we can be confident of being able to make a twenty-year commitment.”
Robert (“Rob”) and Melanie Chaunce of West Tisbury hope to be able to apply, but, “We don’t have much savings and will have to borrow the money to come up with the down payment,” Mrs. Chaunce said.
Mr. Chaunce, 38, is an artist and a landscaper. Mrs. Chaunce, 36, teaches music at the West Tisbury School.
“The key issue is that the applicants are income-qualified. Clearly they are in need of help,” Mr. DiOrio said, as he listened to the applicants tell their stories. “The rest of the situation is subject to discussion or negotiation. ”
The Habitat board expects to make a final decision on the family to be selected at its December meeting. Habitat prefers to have selected a buyer before construction begins, and the organization has promised the town to complete the first home within a year.