Island Housing Trust’s vision comes into focus

Vineyard nonprofit takes a ‘proactive’ approach to housing issues.

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Island Housing Trust executive director Philippe Jordi gives a speech at the groundbreaking for the Water Street affordable housing units in 2015. Mr. Jordi and IHT are attempting to accelerate the pace of getting projects approved on the Island. — Sam Moore

Update Oct. 26:

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital spends $2 million per year to rent housing for staff, particularly summer employees, Timothy Walsh, acting CEO for the hospital, told The Times.

“Housing is a huge problem,” Mr. Walsh said. “It’s the biggest problem we have in recruitment.”

The hospital’s housing issues are just one example of the challenges with finding affordable rentals for the Island’s workforce.

The Island Housing Trust (IHT), the lead nonprofit on Martha’s Vineyard directly responsible for developing affordable housing, is trying to be more aggressive in its approach to the housing crunch.

“We’ve shifted gears from being reactive to being more proactive,” Doug Ruskin, an IHT board member, said in a conversation with The Times.

Since 2005, IHT has raised $14.4 million and accounted for 75 total properties, both rental and homeownership, on the Vineyard. Now, as IHT announced in August, the nonprofit developer is shooting for 100 new units by 2021. That’s going to take raising $24 million through a combination of local and state grants, private donations, bequests, and bank financing.

IHT has hired two additional people, bringing its staff to a total of four and is targeting communication, fundraising, and government outreach in an attempt to bring what it calls Vision 2020 into focus.

“We’re in a more nimble position to react more quickly,” Philippe Jordi, executive director of IHT, told The Times. Even with the additional staff, IHT is spending about $500,000 per year on administrative costs, which accounts for about 12 to 15 percent of IHT’s annual budget, he said.

The ambitious goal is to increase what’s been an average of five to seven units of housing per year to four times that, Mr. Jordi said. One of the ways they’re doing that is by encouraging private donors to donate $100,000 over four years, the kind of donation that can actually account for one unit of housing. Five such “leadership circle” donors have stepped up, he said. IHT’s goal is to have 50 philanthropic leaders join the cause, Mr. Jordi said.

IHT is looking to tap into the seasonal residents by adding more of them to the nonprofit’s board of directors and to have more of them become benefactors of housing, Mr. Ruskin said.

Some of the things that often become roadblocks to affordable housing projects are lack of town services like water and sewer, negative reaction by neighbors, and the lack of political will to become part of the solution, Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Jordi said.

Mr. Jordi explained IHT is concentrating on projects for people at 50 percent of Area Median Income ($34,800 for two people) to 80 percent AMI ($54,000 for two people) because anything above 100 percent  ($69,600 for two people) does not qualify for state or community preservation funds. The entire projects over 100 percent AMI would have to be funded through private donations, he said.

“Where do we spend our time? We only have so much bandwidth,” Mr. Jordi said. “We’re serving people who would never have a chance.”

IHT projects have and will continue to serve households and incomes up to 140 percent of AMI, Mr. Jordi said.

Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Jordi have been spending time with planning boards to talk about ways to provide more housing opportunities through zoning bylaws. West Tisbury has a progressive bylaw that allows for mixed-used developments.

“We want to look at ways we can proactively support towns in what they do,” Mr. Ruskin said.

Story updated to clarify IHT’s position on projects for people earning over 100 percent AMI.