State of housing: Martha’s Vineyard non-profits look forward


Three housing organizations on Martha’s Vineyard are optimistic about the future, as they emerge from a very difficult fundraising environment with dramatic changes in the way they are funded, the way they operate, and the responsibilities they take on.

The Island Housing Trust, the newly renamed Martha’s Vineyard Housing Fund, and the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority each face increased scrutiny from Island towns dealing with a third consecutive year of budget belt-tightening.

The Housing Trust and the Housing Fund have also revamped bylaws and changed the composition of their volunteer boards of directors, after public criticism of board members doing business with their own organizations.

The Island Housing Trust serves as a nonprofit developer of affordable housing.

The Martha’s Vineyard Housing Fund, formerly the Island Affordable Housing Fund, raises money from private donors to support housing.

The Dukes County Regional Housing Authority owns and administers a variety of properties and assistance programs for low and middle-income residents.

The Trust

This week the Housing Trust held its annual public meeting, to review its annual report, audits, financial statement, and operating budget.

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“We’ve been listening a lot over the last year,” executive director Philippe Jordi said in an interview with The Times. The Housing Trust has further opened its process to the public, at the direction of an ad hoc committee that reviewed policies and bylaws.

“We’re using public funds, we need to have public meetings,” board chairman Richard Leonard said. “No contracts are allowed with board members.”

Housing Trust officials promise better notice of its open meetings, self-sufficiency, and autonomy from other housing organizations, wider board representation, and a revised conflict of interest policy.

In recent years, the Housing Trust used a $120,000 annual grant from the Housing Fund to pay most of its operating costs. The Housing Fund no longer finances the operating budget.

Going forward, the Housing Trust will use income from its ground lease fees, project fees for development, grants from public and private sources, and fees for technical assistance to Island towns and organizations to cover project development overhead and administration.

“If we’re running a good organization, we should be able to operate self-sufficiently,” Mr. Leonard said.

The Housing Trust plans an operating budget of $151,615 for 2011. Mr. Jordi is the only paid employee, earning $83,905 in salary. The Housing Trust pays an additional $27,046 for payroll taxes, health, and retirement benefits.

The Housing Trust projects $83,000 in revenue from donations and grants, $25,000 for the project administration fees it takes for developing housing, and $12,480 from technical assistance and consultation to Island towns and other organizations.

In 2010, the Housing Trust brought 13 new homes into the inventory of affordable housing. Eight homeowners moved in at Eliakim’s Way off State Road in West Tisbury, four in a new development at Lambert’s Cove, and one on Rustling Oaks Road in West Tisbury.

Construction is to begin this year on six new townhouses on Lake Street in Tisbury.

According to figures provided by the Housing Trust, 42 new homes have been developed or sold to income-qualified buyers in the past five years. Of those, 35 homes were developed from the ground up, at a total cost for construction and land purchase of $12.6 million, or an average cost per unit of $359,000. The largest part of the financing, $7.6 million, or 60 percent of the total cost for those projects, comes from the families who buy the homes. The average selling price is $217,000.

The homes are awarded on the basis of a lottery and sold at prices based on the buyer’s income.

The Housing Fund

The Martha’s Vineyard Housing Fund is reinventing itself, from the name down. “We are committed to being more of an Island-wide source of funding for housing initiatives on Martha’s Vineyard, driven by the will of the community, whether that be rental, retirement, or home ownership,” executive director Ewell Hopkins said. “The needs are becoming very acute. There’s no question the lack of housing options for certain segments of our community is having an impact on us all. The name change better reflects the priorities we should have as an organization. It’s addressing the housing needs of our community, which go far beyond affordable housing.”

The Housing Fund struggled financially over the past year, unable to fund previous obligations to other Island housing organizations.

In March, 2010, the Housing Fund laid off two of its three employees. Also last year, the organization put the site of the proposed Bradley Square development project up for sale. That project stalled when fundraising fell far short of the amount needed. The Housing Fund borrowed $700,000 to buy the property, and the mortgage remains a financial burden.

Mr. Hopkins said fundraising has improved in recent months.

“Foundations and institutions are still very supportive and are contributing,” Mr. Hopkins said. “Individual contributions are still off. I feel very encouraged because we’re in a position now to have a significant benefit in the community. That’s because we’ve stabilized our financial situation, we’re paying our bills, and we’re positioned with very low overhead to be a very efficient organization. The financial hemorrhaging is behind us.”

The Housing Fund has also seen a large turnover of board members. Island contractor and affordable housing advocate John Early assumed the role of chairman. The board implemented a new conflict of interest policy.

“It’s simple,” Mr. Hopkins said. “No one on the board will do any business with the fund.”

The Housing Fund is completing its operating budget for the current year and would not release it’s spending plan until board members have approved it.

The Housing Authority

The Dukes County Regional Housing Authority directly owns or manages 64 units of housing in 11 properties, funded by rental income from those properties.

The Housing Authority also administers a rental assistance program, now funded entirely by the six Island towns, mostly through Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. There are currently about 90 privately owned apartments in the program. The landlords receive subsidies based on the tenant’s income. There is a waiting list for the rental assistance program of more than 100. Executive director David Vigneault said many of the people on the list are so financially stretched that their income and credit rating is too low to qualify for subsidized apartments.

The organization’s current fiscal year operating budget is $1.5 million. That covers expenses including home repairs, renovations, property insurance, utilities, debt service, administration, and other costs.

Last year voters in the six towns approved approximately $561,000 in CPA funds for the rental assistance program. This year, Community Preservation Act committees in the six towns have recommended a total of $505,850. Voters will decide whether to approve that amount at town meetings next month.

“There seems to be pretty good support,” Mr. Vigneault said, “given that everybody is looking at every nickel.”

The Regional Housing Authority’s administrative budget is funded by appropriations from the six towns, through a formula based on a combination of population, and property valuation.

The administrative budget is projected at $228,520 for the coming year, an increase of three percent over the current year. The increase is to cover rising health insurance costs, according to Mr. Vigneault.

Mr. Vigneault is one of three paid employees. His salary for the coming year is $74,410. An administrator earns $59,742, and an administrative coordinator earns $43,369. The Housing Authority pays an additional $48,283 in payroll taxes, insurance, and health benefits for the three employees.