A housing benchmark
The news that the large, municipally driven affordable housing development now known as Morgan Woods will begin to be lived in by May heralds a significant accomplishment. Leaving aside the complicated, nine-year-long path this 60-rental-unit project has taken on the way to occupancy, it has nevertheless set benchmarks along the way that this page urges others to match.
For example, this is a practical, no-nonsense plan, realistic about the nature and scope of the housing problem we face and designed to get the biggest bang for the buck. It follows that the name change, from Pennywise Path to Morgan Woods, acknowledging Ted Morgan, the practical, no-nonsense, realistic and determined leader of the effort, could not be more appropriate.
It is an accomplishment similar in its no-frills character to the many achievements of Island Elderly Housing, the private non-profit that has built dozens of apartments for elderly and disabled Islanders. Like Edgartown, like Mr. Morgan and his committee and his town's voters, Island Elderly Housing has gotten a lot of important work done.
Also a benchmark, this is a wholehearted municipal effort - which does not mean that every Edgartown voter, taxpayer, or resident approved of the plan. It does mean that town leaders got the votes they needed to push this forward, allowing them to proudly argue that Edgartown is politically committed to helping townspeople and Islanders of modest means to secure decent shelter. No other Island town, except perhaps Chilmark, has put its political will and its assets in service of a housing solution of such significant scale. (Chilmark's project is, naturally and appropriately, narrower in scope and still a few decisions away from implementation, but it looks good so far.)
Also, Morgan Woods is mostly funded by the federal and state governments, and it was built and will be managed by a non-profit organization based off-Island that is expert at doing just this sort of thing. Consequently, Morgan Woods has not been seriously hobbled by the jingoistic self-regard that has attenuated other efforts to meet housing demand. For instance, although some affordable housing supporters have groused about it, such housing does not all have to be built for sale to modest income families. Rentals are important. And, although housing advocates often object, the architecture does not have to conform to some precious preconception about what's Vineyard and what's not. Plus, federal and state funding, although it may permit non-current Islanders to apply for tenancy, can do wonders for the financing of sensible affordable housing developments. Under government rules, anyone may apply for the housing, although some preferences in favor of town residents and Island residents may be allowed. And, if a mainlander squeezes in, well, this Island of immigrants ought to welcome one of its kind.
Plus, available federal and state money, albeit with strings, means Island taxpayers and generous donors do not have to foot the bill for every square foot of affordable housing built here.
Finally, to accomplish what it has accomplished, Edgartown had to face the density question: Is it possible to meet the affordable housing need by building one house for one family on three acres of Vineyard land, and beat off an endless series of lawsuits to do it? Edgartown answered the question by agreeing that to make a significant impact on the housing deficit, density must be increased. There's a benchmark and a lesson the planning and zoning boards and the Martha's Vineyard Commission need to learn.