Op-Ed : After all, what is the purpose of the affordable housing effort?
I write as the executive director with Habitat for Humanity of Martha's Vineyard (HFHMV) to share my experiences with Island affordable housing in general and more specifically, its recipients. There have been many stories in the press lately of the challenges faced by the Island's various housing organizations, including the private non-profits and the towns' committees and boards. The focus has been on how the current economic challenges have impacted the ability of the Island Affordable Housing Fund (IAHF) to meet the traditional funding needs of the Island Housing Trust (IHT) and the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority (DCRHA), as well as how a town can secure a guarantee of affordability in perpetuity.
While these mechanical details are essential to the healthy functioning of the Island's affordable housing community, they have almost entirely neglected the core reason why and for whom these organizations exist. All non-profit affordable housing organizations on this Island were established to help bridge the gap created by a diminishing middle class. As the Vineyard has increased in popularity for vacationers as well as second and third home investments, the stock of land and housing decreased over time. Reduced supply resulted in a proportionate increase in demand, which prompted a rise in pricing. Affordable homes are now out of reach to a growing segment of our population. These very people are the backbone of our Island service industry; without their contribution this Island would cease to function as we know it.
The affordable housing recipients that I have spoken with share a common bond - whether they are in the DCRHA rental assistance program, an IHT home or HFHMV home. All these people have benefited dramatically from the stability that affordable housing brings to their lives. These families have been given the opportunity to end the cycle of stress and chaos resulting from the proverbial "Island shuffle." More than one has told me explicitly that having a home, "Changed my life." The recipients share the gratitude of being able to provide their children with a permanent home base from which to grow and prosper. They express pride in their children's accomplishments in sports, academics, and the arts - knowing that the stability that affordable housing provided was a major factor in the healthy development of their children. I have witnessed tears of appreciation well up in the eyes of mothers whose children have moved on to college after having been raised in the security of their own Island home or rental apartment.
As we stumble toward improving the way we deliver Island affordable housing, let's take stock in the positive impact we continue to have on the lives of those in need. Most importantly, let's not lose sight of each recipient's contribution toward a healthy, vital community from which we all stand to benefit. Let's keep our eye on the prize - a stable Island community.
Neal A. Sullivan is executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Martha's Vineyard.