Housing nonprofits reorganize
IAHF and IHT review governance, mission issues
Leaders of both the Island Affordable Housing Fund (IAHF) and the Island Housing Trust (IHT) are reviewing their organizations' structures and governance policies, and both expect to make significant changes in the coming weeks.
At a meeting scheduled for last night, directors of IAHF were expected to elect Island builder and housing advocate John Early as chairman. Mr. Early is a former West Tisbury selectman and former representative from that town to the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
Approximately half of the directors of the fund have resigned, including the co-chairmen, Candy daRosa of Chilmark and Bob Wheeler of Vineyard Haven, or intend to resign soon, for varying reasons, according to Mr. Early. Only seven remain. The Fund has struggled to regain public confidence following the revelation last fall that the fund could not meet its obligation to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority rental assistant program.
In a conversation with The Times on Monday, Mr. Early expressed enthusiasm about the organization's future, despite the difficult fundraising environment, and the close, sometimes harsh scrutiny of board members whose business affairs intersected with fund projects.
"I don't think this is a suicide mission," Mr. Early said of his new role. "I think we really have an opportunity to turn things around. We need to take a completely new approach. We've got to put this on a businesslike footing. We need to be able to approach donors with a real business plan."
Mr. Early and executive director Ewell Hopkins said that the fund's strategy for raising money will change. Two employees who organized big summer fundraising events were recently laid off.
"I suspect, in fact I know, there will not be any events, large affairs," Mr. Early said. "High-profile events are probably not going to be the way we're going to proceed."
Mr. Early, a veteran builder who has served in a variety of positions in support of affordable housing efforts, said his company will do no business with the fund or any of the other affordable housing agencies on the Island, in order to avoid any appearance of conflict. Mr. Early said he had been excited to be involved in the effort to develop the Bradley Square project in Oak Bluffs, but after considering his involvement, he had decided that it would be better to keep his contracting business and the housing development project separate.
Mr. Hopkins, who joined the fund in September and is now its only paid employee, said he will be looking to the community to determine priorities for affordable housing. "We haven't done as much in increasing awareness as we have in the past," he said. "If anyone thinks there is one solution to this problem, they are naïve, at best. There is a spectrum of problems and a spectrum of solutions."
Mr. Hopkins reported that the fund has an agreement to sell the remaining house in the Jenney Way affordable housing development in Edgartown. The market-rate home has been on the market for more than a year, while the fund carried a mortgage of approximately $461,000. The home is to be sold for approximately $400,000, according to Mr. Hopkins. He expects to be left with a liability of approximately $60,000. He says that will represent a much smaller drain on fund resources.
"That's a good thing," Mr. Hopkins said. "That's going in the right direction."
And, at the Island Housing Trust
Also closely examining its governance is the fund's sister organization, the Island Housing Trust. Mr. Early said there has been some thought given to merging the two nonprofit organizations, but for now, the fund will remain the money-raising arm of the informal affordable housing partnership, while the trust remains the development and property holding arm.
The trust has formed an ad hoc committee of Island leaders, trust board members, and staff to review how the board of directors works, and to provide recommendations for any changes by the end of May. Joseph Sollitto Jr., a lawyer and the Dukes County Superior Court clerk of the courts, will be chairman of the committee. The trust has scheduled its annual board meeting for March 30, at the Howes House in West Tisbury. The session is scheduled to begin at 6 pm. On the agenda will be the election of officers, reports on projects under way, finances, and governance. There will be time set aside for the public to ask questions.