Housing assessment recommends more rentals on Martha’s Vineyard

Morgan Woods, the award winning 60-unit affordable housing complex in Edgartown, is the Island's largest rental complex. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The latest review of progress in the Island effort to create affordable housing recommends an Island-wide shift toward a policy that produces “a much higher percentage of rental units” to meet Island housing needs. It calls for a movement away from the home ownership model that has been one of the principal goals for Island housing organizations for decades.

The Martha’s Vineyard Housing Needs Assessment Study Committee published its partial and preliminary report in December. The report follows a similar study called “Preserving Community,” completed in 2001 and revised in 2005.

The report’s focus is “to gain an understanding of the current housing dynamic Island-wide and in each community.” Running 168 pages, the MVHNA partial draft includes the first five of eight planned sections. The completed document will include sections evaluating existing programs and projects and organizational capacity, recommendations, and a conclusion. The final report is due before the end of April.

The MVHNA committee includes representatives of the six Island towns, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), and the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. It has a budget of $30,000 paid for by the Island towns, the MVC, and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. The report was written by consultant Karen Sunnarborg, a specialist in housing and planning. She has a Masters in city planning from the Harvard University-Graduate School of Design and has written similar reports for dozens of New England towns.

In a conversation with the Times, Ms. Sunnarborg said that the report is “the result of a lot of research from a lot of different sources. Most of it is data-driven and based on U.S. census information, market information and information from the towns.” She said that she had technical help from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and studied information from each of the towns’ assessors and building departments, Island public housing agencies, the Steamship Authority, and other Island organizations.

She looked at all residential properties, analyzing them by range of values in different price ranges. She accessed real estate listings, Craig’s List, other Internet listings, brokers, Banker and Tradesman, a publication dealing with banking, real estate and financial services, and other relevant publications. “We looked at median house values into the long term and then we did some calculations on affordability.”

The report, similar to the 2001 study, examines population, wages, development trends, tourism trends, and a host of other factors and makes a number of recommendations. The 2001 study recommended a goal of developing 100 to 150 units per year divided evenly between rental housing and affordable homeownership. A reduction in the recommended targets was made in the 2005 report to 30 to 40 units in each group.

The MVHNA report points out that “production over the last decade has been almost 30 units per year, well below the 50 per year goal,” and recommends what it calls a “still ambitious goal” of producing a total of 50 units of affordable or community housing per year with a split of 80 percent year-round rentals units to 20 percent affordable home ownership.

The 2005 update of the needs assessment said, “The Island’s residents have made truly remarkable progress toward meeting the goal. In the four years since the original study, 343 affordable homes or apartments were created.” It recommended the Island maintain a rate of creating 30 to 40 units annually of rental housing along with the creation of 40 to 50 new home-ownership opportunities each year.

The MVHNA report quotes from the 2001 study, “The challenges to establishing a secure residence on Martha’s Vineyard are quickly becoming insurmountable for a growing segment of the population…” It also states, “wealth was concentrating at an accelerating pace, driving up housing prices, fueling the demand for lower-paying service and retail jobs, and decreasing year‐round housing availability. This is still the case more than a dozen years later.”