Op-Ed : IAHF director describes his organization's commitment
Living and raising a family on Martha's Vineyard for the last 11 years has provided me with a broad knowledge of local charitable organizations, each striving to protect what is special about our Island community. Despite the daunting number of not-for-profit organizations, there is an impressive level of respect and support shared among these groups. I'm sure most would agree that the charitable work of this Island is impressive.
Prior to considering the position of executive director at The Island Affordable Housing Fund (IAHF), I thought of IAHF as a charitable organization. I didn't consider the possibility that the IAHF is one of the most important Island-based economic engines and has been for the last 10 years. The work of the IAHF is so much more than charity.
The IAHF, like many organizations, has felt the impact of the current economy on its funding for programs. How can a program as crucial to the fabric of this community as the rental assistance program run short of funds? In terms of dollars and cents, it occurs when the individuals and organizations who support IAHF, due to financial concerns of their own, cut in half their pledged amounts, or worse, are unable to fulfill their pledges at all. But the real shortfall is occurring in our community's commitment to itself. We have forgotten the essential nature of affordable housing to our way of life here. When those pledges don't come in or are 50 percent less than expected, there is a ripple effect. Not only is the rental assistance program suffering, but so are other commitments. There are 27 homes shovel-ready, or in some stage of development, that require funding. It is good news that much progress has been made with affordable housing on the Vineyard, but, unfortunately, there are some challenges we face as things continue to grow.
However, the focus here is the rental assistance program and its future. The good news is that December is not to be a concern to landlords and tenants. Donors, concerned community members, the Edgartown affordable housing committee, and the West Tisbury affordable housing committee have stepped up and have helped us overcome the financial challenge for December.
As I have said to anyone who will listen, it is the intent of IAHF to resume its contribution to this program at the earliest possible date. Over the last three weeks, I have attempted to speak directly with every landlord affected by this challenging time, to assure them that it is a priority of IAHF to raise the money to resume this crucial program for sustainable housing
Let me take another moment to share a few additional thoughts on the economic impact of IAHF. IAHF has been one of the most important Island-based economic engines for the last 10 years and will continue to be a driving force in helping our community.
Because of the financial contributions of the IAHF to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority's (DCRHA) rental assistance program (in excess of $2,600,000 over the last decade), several hundred families have been able to find safe, decent, affordable housing here on the Island. These families each spend an average of $50,000 per year on the Island - buying groceries, supporting mortgage payments and real estate taxes for their landlords, filling their cars with gas, eating in our restaurants, frequenting our retail stores, using our doctors, dentists and the hospital. The list goes on and on. IAHF's financial contributions have supported an average of 50 families annually over the past few years, indicating an annual infusion of $2.5 million into our Island businesses. If you embrace the economic principle of a "fiscal multiplier" on a local level - the multiplier effect or spending multiplier holds that an initial amount of spending, usually by the government, leads to increased consumption spending and so results in an increase in community income greater than the initial amount of spending - a conservative multiplier of four applied to this family spending can easily translate into annual expenditures on the Island of $10 million. These are productive, active members of our community supplying their labor and talents to Island businesses and other organizations. The rental assistance program is not charity. It is an essential part of the economic engine of Martha's Vineyard that drives the development and maintenance of our beloved community.
Another point to consider is the fund's sister organization, the Island Housing Trust. The IHT has spent in excess of $12 million in construction of affordable housing over the past 10 years. Much of these expenditures support our tradesmen, who spend their incomes supporting their mortgages, paying real estate taxes, buying groceries and gas, eating in our restaurants, shopping in our stores, in short, supporting Island businesses, Island incomes, and the Island way of life. Again, applying a multiplier of four to this level of spending results in an economic impact of more than $48 million on the Island.
IAHF has had a significant impact on the Vineyard over the past 10 years. In the next 10 years, for IAHF to do even more to help create and sustain affordable housing for our community, it must first provide a full public accounting of its finances and its decision making process.
I invite people with questions to attend the Island Affordable Housing Fund community meeting, sponsored by the Vineyard Haven Library, on Wednesday, December 2, from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm. Through open dialog, I hope to lead the IAHF from this period of uncertainty in a direction which is understood by and supported by our community.
T. Ewell Hopkins lives in Oak Bluffs. He is executive director of the Island Affordable Housing Fund.