For many Islanders and certainly their seasonal neighbors, spring and the approach of the summer season, with its prospect of shedding the gray, wet, cold winter mantle — also known on the Vineyard as early spring — is a relief. It is exciting to imagine warm, sunny days and everything else the summer months offer.
But for one segment of the Vineyard population, this is the anxious season, as the weeks tick away and winter leases expire. It is the familiar Vineyard shuffle that individuals, couples, and families all too routinely make between affordable off-season rentals and high-priced summer housing, or no housing at all. And, as Jack Shea reports this week, a meeting Saturday at the Oak Bluffs Library, attended by many of those in the eye of the shuffle storm, explained that a strengthening economy has made finding summer housing much more difficult.
Jason Claypool and Mellisa Zaccaria organized the meeting. In a letter posted on social media, Ms. Zaccaria described the situation: “We have been homeless since Friday of last week and have been religiously searching through Facebook housing groups, both Vineyard newspapers, Craigslist, and word of mouth since before Christmas of last year. This is not due to a lack of money, but to a lack of housing opportunities.”
Mr. Shea reports that the group of attendees included many longtime Islanders, people with roots in the community, who now find themselves on the brink of seasonal homelessness.
Dukes County Regional Housing Authority executive director David Vigneault said that for several years the slowdown in the housing market added 50 to 60 rental units to the Vineyard stock. With the real estate market back, he said, many of those rental properties are off the market.
The solution is to create more year-round rentals. And not just for those who fall under median income thresholds. There is a need for quality year-round rental housing for members of this community who may exceed those income limits, but may, for a variety of reasons, be unable or not inclined to buy a house.
In a Letter to the Editor that appears on this page, Chelsea Counsell of Oak Bluffs, administrator of a social media group called “MV Home Solutions,” asks, “Why is Island housing so difficult to find?”
The answer lies in our resort economy. Land prices are high, construction costs are high and property owners, who have their own bills to pay, take advantage of summer to realize the most return on their investment.
Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust, tells The Times he has been hearing about the rental shortage for months. “Now it is crunch time,” Mr. Jordi said, “and people are getting desperate.”
It is hard to imagine that the best efforts of the Island’s hard-working affordable housing advocates and nonprofit agencies would be able to meet the need any time in the near future. Increased taxpayer subsidies paid to landlords to bridge the affordability gap will not be enough and offer no long-term solution.
Mr. Jordi rightly points out that agencies like the Housing Authority target a specific problem. “The question really is,” Mr. Jordi said, “why don’t we have more market rate rentals, year-round? Why are we having such a problem with people who can pay, not being able to find rental units.”
Mr. Jordi suggest it is the marketplace at work. The numbers do not work. And few developers want to take on the added burdens of property management.
Island planning and housing leaders along with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission ought to invite private developers to sit down and describe what towns and the Island’s powerful regulatory agency might do — incentives, zoning changes, streamlined permitting — to create an environment in which builders would create market-rate, year-round rental housing. The building trades are pillars of the Vineyard’s year-round and seasonal economy. Many of the members of that community may relish the opportunity to create housing they or their children might one day occupy.
At 11 am, this Saturday, Megan Leland, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School class of 2005, will help dedicate a black granite bench, bought with the help and support of the Island community. It will be set on the high school campus, between two flowering crabapple trees. It bears the inscription, “In loving memory of David Furino and Kevin H. Johnson, Class of 2005.”
With this effort, Ms. Leland will make good on a promise she made 10 years ago, following the deaths of her classmates in an auto accident, and she will affirm the tight bonds among members of the Vineyard community, in good times and bad. As students prepare for the prom this weekend, we are sadly reminded of the message printed on bumper stickers that appear on vehicles around the Island, a message that does not expire with the passage of time: “Buckle up for K.J. and Deebo.”