State housing officials take a close-up look at Martha’s Vineyard

From left: Dukes County Regional Housing Authority executive director David Vigneault, DHCD undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay, MVC executive director Adam Turner.

Chrystal Kornegay, the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) undersecretary, made the trip from Beacon Hill on Friday to get a firsthand look at the growing housing crisis on Martha’s Vineyard.

After spending the morning touring the Island, Ms. Kornegay and her staff met with a group of Island housing stakeholders for a working lunch at the West Tisbury library, given by the Island Housing Trust (IHT). Along with turkey wraps and chips, Ms. Kornegay and her contingent were served a generous helping of Vineyard housing problems, including the high cost of land, the NIMBY factor, the seasonal economy, nitrogen concerns, zoning impediments, and a lack of cohesion between the six towns.

Ms. Kornegay said many of the problems facing Martha’s Vineyard are problems statewide. “Everywhere I go, everybody talks about housing,” she said. “The issues are the same everywhere. It’s a blessing to have a thriving, growing economy, but there’s also a curse for some people when it comes to housing. Nowhere do I go where people tell me, ‘We’re so happy with our housing, and all of our teachers can afford to live here, and our seniors are in great shape.’ That becomes particularly acute in a place like the Vineyard, when your police officers and teachers and firefighters can’t afford to live here, never mind the seasonal issues you have.”

Tim Madden, Cape and Islands state representative, said Ms. Kornegay’s visit was indicative of the commitment the current administration is making to affordable and workforce housing: “The Baker-Polito administration has been very responsive to this issue,” he said. “I’m very impressed with the job they’re doing. These listening tours really pay off.”

The ‘wow’ factor

In an interview with The Times on Tuesday, Ms. Kornegay shared her thoughts about her Vineyard visit. She said she’d vacationed on the Island before, but it was long before she was one of the state’s highest-ranking housing officials. She said her visit was eye-opening.

“As a vacationer, you see a different side of the Vineyard, and most of the time I stayed in Oak Bluffs,” she said. “This time I got to see more of the Island in a much different way.”

Asked if her visit held any surprises, Ms. Kornegay immediately answered, “The nine-month leases. The idea that you would have a school superintendent on a nine-month lease: I was like, ‘Wow.’”

When it comes to towns developing their own affordable housing, as opposed to bringing in an outside developer, Ms. Kornegay, who earned her master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) School of Urban Planning, said she has a personal bias. “Development is more complicated than people think,” she said. “It’s always better to get somebody who understands the process and all the things that can come up and the ways one might deal with those. So why would a municipality want to build that capacity when they could get it from a developer? That said, the developer has to be interested in what the town is interested in building.”

Ms. Kornegay believes that larger developments do not necessarily create larger problems. “In general, the issues that come up in development come up whether it’s six units or 30 units,” she said. “Scale matters most in how you finance those deals. But trying to figure out what the grade is and how to deal with the grade change is going to matter whether it’s six units or 30 units.”

Prior to joining the Baker Administration, Ms. Kornegay was president and CEO of Urban Edge, a nonprofit development corporation that has created 1,250 units of low- and moderate-income housing, and 82,000 square feet of nonresidential property in Boston. She said the NIMBY [not in my backyard] factor, a major hurdle for housing development on the Island, is an issue everywhere. It’s a tension that can be defused if a local nonprofit, such as the IHT, works in partnership with an off-Island developer.

“Being local matters,” she said. “It’s different when you’re having a conversation with ‘that developer’ who is perceived as being an outsider who’s greedy. It’s different if you have that conversation with a person you see in the supermarket. Just keep talking. Don’t make it personal. People have legitimate issues. Every NIMBY is not wrong. Work with them and try to address that. It’s about a partnership. Sometimes helping people understand the math is important. You just have to stick in there. That’s why [development] takes so long. It’s not for the faint-hearted.”

The Times asked Ms. Kornegay how she might address the need for workforce housing for Islanders who don’t qualify for “affordable” housing — defined as households making less than 80 percent of area median income (AMI) — but who also can’t afford to buy or rent market-rate housing.

“This is something the administration is really focused on,” she said. “We’re working with the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency to develop a program to support the development of workforce housing, up to 120 percent AMI. We believe a community is made up of diversity of incomes as well as other kinds of diversity.”

Ms. Kornegay said the current administration is also expanding the use of Chapter 40-R, the Smart Growth Zoning Overlay District Act, which encourages communities to create residential or mixed-use smart-growth zoning districts that include a high percentage of affordable or workforce housing. 40-R developments are to be located where housing density already exists — a goal that has been repeatedly stated at All-Island Planning Board meetings. Money from the state Smart Growth Housing Trust Fund is available for 40-R developments.

“Building smaller homes on smaller lots is not a bad thing,” she said. “40-R allows a community to decide where it wants to grow, how it wants to grow, and can help provide financial support. The Island housing production plan that you are doing is an exciting thing. It’ll enable us to talk about ways we can help you meet the goals you decide on.”

The Island housing production plan (HPP) is being funded by $40,000 from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) and by a $70,000 grant from the DHCD, which was awarded last month. The first step of the plan, currently underway, is to update the 2013 Housing Needs Assessment done by the MVC.

“It was a very productive day; we’re really glad she came,” MVC executive director Adam Turner told The Times on Tuesday. “She spent a lot of time touring the Island and asking questions. Now she’s got a much better idea of how unique our situation is on the Vineyard.”