Editorial : Simple, affordable shelter
Affordable housing on Martha's Vineyard has many faces. It isn't as if we haven't tried to address the shortage of reasonably priced shelter for young Islanders, newcomers, and long-timers who have been somehow un-housed. Thousands of public and private dollars, or their equivalent in donated real estate value, have been applied to solutions.
Beginning with subsidized rental housing for older Islanders, and unrestricted resident homesites, to restricted homesites, to Habitat for Humanity, to co-housing, to Jenney Lane, to Middle Line Road, to Morgan Woods, to Bradley Square, the efforts have been varied and extensive. Despite our best efforts, we have not solved the problem, and in some respects we have so encumbered the solutions we've devised as to create unintended and adverse effects. We have also rejected political decisions that would make use of increased density, multi-family rental complexes and low cost regulatory oversite regimens to encourage privately financed construction of rental and condominium projects that might be targeted for truly Island neighbors in need of reasonably priced places to live. Even good projects have been tortured to near death by regulators and litigious critics over months and years.
Times writer Steve Myrick reports this morning that at Morgan Woods, the largest municipal effort to provide housing for folks of modest income is caught in an unforeseen trap. As the economy has worsened, even modest incomes have declined, and, Mr. Myrick explains, "These blows to already fragile family budgets have pushed even heavily subsidized rents in the award-winning affordable housing development beyond the means to pay for those families."
The financial model on which the estimable Morgan Woods was mounted requires that the range of rents offered would be tenants are strictly regimented. Many Morgan Woods units, available under federal guidelines, require that tenant families earn substantially more than the area median income. So, they are priced higher than privately owned apartments now available on the open market.
"It has been years since I've seen a year-round rental for less than a thousand dollars," Janet Hathaway, chairman of the Edgartown affordable housing committee, told Mr. Myrick. "That's what we're competing with."
"In a cruel twist of economic fate," Mr. Myrick writes, "the nationwide bust in the housing market, combined with the particular and sometimes bizarre affordability gap in housing on Martha's Vineyard, has made some affordable housing unaffordable for the working class families it was intended to help."
Affordable housing relates to not only the cost of shelter but the cost of living. It relates to the availability of good jobs, which in turn depend upon a growing economy. An affordable housing effort based on subsidies and limits on the accumulation of equity and the heritability of property faces certain defeat. A review of public housing ventures over decades and across the country, despite billions in public funds spent, yields few success stories. An affordable housing effort that is not built on stimulating economic growth and realistic, low cost design and construction solutions is certain to fall short. As will the effort we have worked so hard at for several years, which supports high housing and living costs rather than targets them for reduction.