Vacancies at Morgan Woods reflect ironic twist in housing market
Inside the rental office of the Morgan Woods development in Edgartown, property manager Jessica Burgoyne keeps a box of tissues on the table where she talks to tenants. These days, she replaces the tissues often.
As the nation's distressed economy depletes savings, eliminates jobs, and curbs consumer spending, the financial strains on residents of Morgan Woods stretch to the breaking point and beyond.
Photo by Steve Myrick
This winter, a few families who rented the newly constructed apartments have been forced to move out. The two-income families among them suddenly became one-income families. Extra hours dried up. Some lost one or two of their part-time jobs, or just ran into a bit of bad luck. 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.
On the other end of the scale, a few apartments at Morgan Woods sit empty. Those vacant units, which are available under federal guidelines only to families that earn substantially more than the area median income, 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," said Janet Hathaway, chairman of the Edgartown affordable housing committee. "That's what we're competing with."
In a cruel twist of economic fate, 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.
"It's very difficult to have vacant units right now, and not be able to house some of these families that are in desperate need," said Ms. Burgoyne. "I live here. This is not only my job, it's my neighborhood. It's doubly difficult when I have units that I can't offer to hard-working Island families."
Need for a neighborhood
Named for Fred "Ted" Morgan, a former long-time selectman and tireless advocate for affordable housing, Morgan Woods was completed in the spring of 2007. It is the largest affordable rental housing development on Martha's Vineyard. A total of 60 apartments with broad front porches are clustered around three neatly landscaped common areas designed to promote a sense of community. It sits on 12 acres of land leased by the town for a nominal fee to the Community Builders Inc., which built, owns, and manages the development. The Community Builders bills itself as the nation's largest non-profit affordable housing developer. Morgan Woods was financed by a consortium of public and private investors, at a development cost of $16 million, according to Community Builders.
Housing advocates here offer high praise for the efforts of Edgartown's government boards and committees to establish affordable housing, and Morgan Woods is the most visible accomplishment of the town's efforts.
It was designed as a mixed-income development to help working families that found it virtually impossible to find year-round housing in local communities.
"Morgan Woods is not philanthropy," said Alan Gowell, a member of the town's affordable housing committee. When he was involved in the town's efforts to establish the development, he kept the image of a family headed by two school teachers in his mind. "We were especially sensitive to the needs of households with middle-income earners," he said.