On a brisk, sunny afternoon in Aquinnah Thursday, the Island Housing Trust (IHT) broke ground for a ceremony on two new homes to be built in the coming months.
The event brought together members of the IHT, Aquinnah selectmen, and others involved with the project.
The plot of land off State Road was sold at a discounted price to IHT by Helen Mays, whose grandfather, Russell Smalley, used to own the property. “I’m happy to know that two families will have the opportunity to live in housing on the land that my grandfather, Russell Smalley, once owned,” wrote Helen Mays in a letter to IHT.
The six acres of land were given the name Smalley’s Knoll to pay homage to the late Russell Smalley.
Durwood “Woody” Vanderhoop, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), offered a short blessing in the tribe’s native language to start the ceremony.
Julianne Vanderhoop, an Aquinnah selectman, gave a brief speech on the project. She emphasized “how special this Aquinnah place is. Our community, all the families that are here, from the smallest town. The heart here is very strong.”
Selectmen and representatives of Island Housing Trust pushed their shovels into the dirt with smiles on their faces.
While cups of hot cider were poured and handshakes of celebration were shared, the less glamorous reality of why this ceremony was happening was not lost on Ms. Vanderhoop: “We have very few homes for the people that choose to stay and live here.”
Finding affordable year-round housing is close to impossible for many of the families who live and work on the Island. A disheartening cycle of renters and landlords charging high prices to wage-earning families and then ending leases once the summer season begins is an ongoing issue better known as the Island shuffle.
This is where IHT comes in.
Since 2006, the trust has been building permanently affordable homes. So far, the nonprofit’s total of 76 homes has provided much-needed housing for year-round Island residents. Over 321 year-round residents are waiting to purchase a home, while 600 residents are waiting for a rental, according to IHT. At the helm of the trust is executive director Philippe Jordi. The trust aims to build homes for as many of those families as it can, while also taking care to protect and conserve the land they are using.
IHT is in the midst of its Vision 2020 goal of creating 100 new homes by the end of 2020. “It’s great that we can be part of keeping our community whole and keeping folks here year-round. Homes they can live in and love and grow in as they get older,” Mr. Jordi said.
This is the fourth property IHT has been involved with in Aquinnah. It has also purchased land with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, totaling 200 acres. Only a small percentage of land is used to build houses, while most of it is preserved. “Even though we do housing, we’re really involved in land conservation to a large extent. We are making sure this land will be preserved for future generations of Island people and families,” Mr. Jordi said.
Derrill Bazzy, project manager and architectural mastermind at IHT, designed the homes. The new design was created to be sustainable, affordable, and flexible to the needs of its future inhabitants. “It can be something that we can just finish the first floor of, but have an attic and a basement for families to expand into,” Mr. Bazzy said.
Both houses will have two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, and living space. The attic and basement will be left for the families to design themselves. This is the backbone of the design and what makes it so affordable for future families. “We are providing the core, which keeps initial costs down and gives them the opportunity to save costs,” Mr. Bazzy said. “We build them in a way people can afford to live in them.”
While the homes are built by IHT, the organization does not chose the families who will live in them. Families are selected by the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority through a lottery process.