Affordable housing hurdles
Robert S. Finkelstein and Cheryl Finkelstein of Marblehead and Chappaquiddick are part of a group of 10 Chappy plaintiffs who sued in September 2005 to block the development of three affordable one-acre house lots on Chappaquiddick. The group of 10 lost the lawsuit, then appealed. It's been more than a year since the three lots were permitted by the Edgartown zoning board, and the pendency of the appeal, as yet unresolved, has extended the delay for Joe Spagnuolo and his wife Cheryl Herrick, who were to build on the lot next to the Finkelsteins' summer house. Now, thanks to some timely action and nearly a quarter of a million dollars of the Finkelsteins' money, Mr. Spagnuolo and Ms. Herrick have lost the chance to be the Finkelsteins' next door neighbors.
Mr. Spagnuolo and Ms. Herrick had signed an agreement to pay $40,000 for the acre lot next to the Finkelsteins' acre. When the purchase and sale agreement expired, the Finkelsteins offered $287,900 for the land and bought it from Juanita B. Vickers of Florida. Ms. Vickers is trying to find another suitable lot to sell to the disappointed couple.
Separately, or in concert, the plaintiffs who have so far blocked development of these three buildable and affordable lots may try to buy the remaining two parcels from the Islanders who have been awarded the lots.
Affordable housing development is difficult Island-wide. This Chappaquiddick affair is only the most recent and most appalling example of the challenges that beset efforts to develop housing opportunities for moderate-income Islanders.
We have often argued that efforts to build affordable housing will certainly encounter resistance from neighboring property owners who believe their property values will be harmed by the development of affordable housing nearby or who simply object to change in neighborhoods whose character, they thought, had been settled years ago. Frequently these predictable concerns on the part of neighbors to affordable housing developments will be masked by claims that the ecological or environmental balance will be disturbed by the proposed construction, but such assertions carry little weight. The core of opposition is based on preservation of property values and hostility to change.
Generous housing efforts in several Island towns remain mired in legal delays on account of such neighborhood opposition. The general enthusiasm for the concept of affordable housing often does not extend to the reality of affordable housing next door. The delays and the awful expense involved in initial permitting and then legal defense of affordable housing proposals has not defeated the determined efforts of many Islanders to build needed housing. But the effort has been crippled, so severely that it has not met the need as outlined in the landmark 2001 housing needs assessment. And, it is unreasonable to think that the strategies now depended upon to overcome the shortage of affordable housing will match the Vineyard's large and growing need. What will be needed, as housing values increase, as neighborhoods move upscale, as the population grows along with the need for goods and services, is selective re-zoning to allow smaller lots and denser developments. The champions of affordable housing who are serious about overcoming the housing shortfall must become the champions of changes in zoning regulation or the gentrification of Martha's Vineyard will raise the already sizable premium for living and housing beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest.