Habitat for Humanity M.V. creates needed housing


The house stands poised for a move, in two pieces, visible along State Road in West Tisbury behind the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank. It will soon become the first of three affordable houses to be built by Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard at the end of Bailey Park Road, off Great Plains Road, in West Tisbury.

The land has been cleared and the building applications submitted. The foundation of the first house was poured this week. At Habitat’s board meeting today, the selected owners for this first house will be quietly approved. It will be the ninth house that Habitat of M.V. has contributed to Island affordable housing efforts since 1996, when the local affiliate of the international organization was founded. Recruitment is already under way for volunteers for the iconic Habitat “build” for the house, which may start late next month.

“Habitat fills a critical need,” says David Vigneault of the Dukes County Affordable Housing Authority. “First, they were able to offer eligibility for a lower-income group, and second, they offered the Habitat brand building process that makes this affordable. No one else could have done this project.”

In fact, Habitat was the only responder to the project’s Request for Proposals from West Tisbury, a fact that did not surprise selectman Cynthia Mitchell.

“Building affordable housing can be a difficult process and is not a big money-maker,” she said. “We felt this was a good match. The organization has a way they do things, but they were also willing to be inclusive and accommodating.”

The lots

The Bailey Park process began with prospecting by Glen Hearn, a member of the West Tisbury Affordable Housing Committee who started analyzing lot maps in 2007 in an effort to put together enough parcels from tax foreclosures for the three lots. Once the lots were put together — two just under an acre and one just over — the town had to purchase access to the Great Plains Road for each of the lots, as well as connections to the electrical system. Engineer Kent Healy donated the septic plans.

“We are very grateful to the town of West Tisbury,” said Doug Ruskin, newly installed president of the board of directors for Habitat. “It’s wonderful to have a chance to build these three homes without having to worry about the land for a while. It has really given us some breathing room.”

As with most of the Habitat houses on the Vineyard, the Island Housing Trust will hold the land through a 99-year renewable ground lease with the owners, helping to assure the property will stay in the affordable housing pool.


Habitat for Humanity International, founded in 1976, has built or remodeled some 400,000 homes around the world. In addition to its trademark building process, the Vineyard affiliate will also be using the organization’s protocol for selecting “family partners” as owners. The assessment takes into account the willingness to work (Habitat requires from 300 to 500 hours of work from the home owners), financial situation and need.

The Dukes County Regional Housing Authority will conduct the financial eligibility component. In most other Vineyard affordable housing awards, a lottery is used to choose among those who meet the financial eligibility requirements, sometimes weighted for town residency or the service provided by the potential owner, such as a teacher or police officer. Instead, Habitat uses a more intimate process to establish the fit for the long-term partnership it expects to have with the family, as both advocates and the bankers holding the mortgage.

“Committee members go to homes, and interview applicant family members,” Neal Sullivan, Habitat M.V. executive director, said. “They get a sense of how the family is living. Do they have enough bedrooms for the age and sex of children? Even if their finances are limited, do they manage them well? Will they be able to pay a mortgage? This is some of what the committee looks at.

“Historically, there haven’t been any single people awarded a Vineyard Habitat home. It’s not a rule, and we encourage single people to apply. But the needs assessment is tilted toward families with children.”

The Habitat selection committee is headed by Anthony Piland, and West Tisbury Affordable Housing Committee members Mike Colaneri and Jim Powell are among the members.

Once a recipient is identified, a Habitat board member is assigned as a Family Partner for ongoing support. The mortgage from Habitat has 0 percent interest and a 2 percent down payment, and is established not by the cost of the house but by the family’s ability to pay.

The “Build”

And then comes the actual construction, with the outpouring of donated time — thousands of hours — and materials that are the Habitat signature. Habitat wants to expand the volunteer base for the Vineyard, especially to reach year-round Island residents.

“The majority of our volunteers have come from second-home owners and summer visitors who know about Habitat and want to volunteer as part of their vacations,” Mr. Sullivan said. “It takes us 12 months to build a house. We’d like to shorten that time and try to get started in the early spring.”

Volunteers do everything from shingling to painting to digging holes or putting in insulation.

“It has spirit,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Something like an old-fashioned barn raising. I really enjoy seeing retirees who may have spent their careers in corporate boardrooms really focusing on getting those shingle rows straight. People really enjoy themselves and learn.”

“It’s a double reward,” Mr. Ruskin said. “There’s great satisfaction in seeing concrete progress — a wall painted or putting up one by sixes. But it’s magnified because most of the time the volunteer is working alongside the homeowner and sees what that owner sees too.”

For the first Habitat home, the one now in two pieces, Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank donated the house and will pay for the move, the foundation, and installation, an effort spearheaded by Richard Leonard, vice president and of the bank.

“Lee Taberner is our construction coordinator,” Mr. Sullivan said. “That means he manages the volunteers, which includes people with no building experience who might be put to work painting a foundation or digging a ditch, to Vineyard experts. He’s a perfectionist, so he has to be very patient and a good teacher.”

Habitat also has a volunteer coordinator, who schedules volunteers and manages the releases and data collection for the projects.

In addition to the Habitat staff, other paid workers may include specialized sub-contractors — plumbers, electricians, heating installers. Sometimes employers will donate these workers and are able to receive a tax deduction for their time.

Donated materials are great for bringing down costs — a granite counter top, expensive tile, a high-end appliance, even a $350 toilet paper holder, have been among the leftovers from building high-end Vineyard homes — but they can create questions. .

“Sometimes we are asked to explain why a house looks so great,” Mr. Sullivan said. “But if a builder donates tiles or a high-end appliance that weren’t being used on a million-dollar home, we don’t say ‘No thanks. We’ll use our cash to buy something cheaper.’ But sometimes when people walk through a house they only see the bling.”

While perhaps three years of building at Bailey Park are ahead, Habitat has already established its next project on a donated lot on Marion’s Way in Vineyard Haven.

“Our goal is to make relatively simple, decent homes to put in the Island’s affordable housing pool,” Ruskin says. “Two to three bedrooms, 1,100 to 1,300 square feet. Something warm and dry. There is a great need.”

While the hammer and paintbrush are the emblematic Habitat tools, volunteers can also help with mailings and data entry and many other parts of the process. Even, in the final stages, planting flowers.

If you are interested in learning where you might fit in, call Habitat at 508-696-4646.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:Correction: Jan. 13, 2011An earlier version misspelled the name of Anthony Piland, the head of the Habitat selection committee.