New Housing Fund director makes plans for record fundraising in 2007
It's a fundraising jungle out there, and with summer fast approaching, the Island's nonprofit organizations are already planning strategies to secure their pieces of the financial pie. The number of good causes - the clatter of eminently worthy tin cups - can be daunting. But Patrick R. Manning, the new executive director of the Island Affordable Housing Fund (IAHF), is entirely unapologetic about his plans to seek record support for his organization's cause this year.
Says Mr. Manning, who took his new post Jan. 29 after a 12-year political career as a state legislator in New York: "Obviously it's a challenge. There are so many worthy causes out there. But I just think the issue of affordable housing is central, because this is the effort that is going to keep the soul of the Island, the character of the Island, intact. The dollars, right now, need to go where they can do the most good - and I don't mean to take away from anybody else, but that's our organization."
Patrick R. Manning is the new executive director of the Island Affordable Housing Fund. Photo By Nis Kildegaard
The 41-year-old Mr. Manning succeeds Emily Graham Levett, taking his place in the tiny office of Island Affordable Housing, upstairs at the Vineyard Housing Office (VHO) on State Road in Tisbury. The office feels even tinier now when Mr. Manning folds his six-foot, 11-inch frame inside, ducking his head to negotiate the doorway. He joins a team of organizations largely funded by IAHF, led by David Vigneault, director of the Regional Housing Authority, and Philippe Jordi, director of the Island Housing Trust.
Mr. Manning, who sat still for an interview at the housing office last week, says his conversations with Islanders during his first month on the job suggest there's still some public confusion about exactly what goes on inside VHO. "When I walk down the street now," he says, "nine out of ten people will agree that affordable housing is the number one problem here. But nine out of ten people may not know who the Island Affordable Housing Fund really is, versus the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority or the Island Housing Trust."
In fact, it's fairly easy to explain: The Housing Trust helps make home ownership possible for Islanders with its unique model of the land lease. The Housing Authority is the landlord, managing scores of affordable rental properties across the Island. The Housing Fund raises the money that makes these programs possible.
And increasingly, with seven years of hard work under their belts, these organizations are serving as the Island's affordable housing brain trust, advising and supporting the six towns as they work on a wide range of municipal housing initiatives.
Mr. Manning says that in his first month on the job, he's concentrated on getting up to speed by tapping into what he calls the "institutional knowledge" of his colleagues at the housing office, and on listening to members of this Island community which has been his summer home since 1990.
He's also begun to put his own stamp on the organization, adjusting its image and planning for an ambitious fund-raising drive in the last weekend of July.
One of Mr. Manning's first changes was to change the organization's web site address, dropping the IAHT initials and moving to Islandaffordable.org. The initials, he says, simply didn't tell people anything: "My job is to put a public face on the Island Affordable Housing Fund and make it clear what we do, how we do it, and how concentrated we are every day on raising the money to save these families."
Clearly, Mr. Manning would rather tell a story than put up a chart. His conviction is that affordable housing has moved to the foreground as an Island issue not because the overarching numbers are compelling, but because human examples of the problem are everywhere.
"I think public opinion here is galvanizing," he says. "This is not something people see in terms of some faceless strangers in need of housing - it's their neighbor. It's the person who makes their lunch, the person who educates their children, the person who patrols their streets. People realize that wherever they turn, there's someone either contemplating leaving the Island, or trying to figure out some solution to stay on the Island."
Mr. Manning has the affordable housing schtick down pat, and with his politician's gift of gab (he quickly corrects his interviewer, interjecting, "retired politician"), he knows how to frame this issue in the most urgent terms. "You know, the Steamship Authority calls itself the lifeline to the Island," he says, "but it's the residents who are the lifeblood of the Island.
"I've never seen a time when Islanders, when presented with a problem in their community, haven't stood up and addressed that problem. And this is not about some luxury we'd like to have on the Island to make our quality of life even better: This has the profound ability to change the Island as we know it. If this isn't dealt with, we could be faced with a community where in the summer months, you've got seasonal residents looking at seasonal residents, and then in the three other seasons, a ghost town. That's not what we want."
Hearing these words, and looking back at his political career, you might be surprised to discover that as a state legislator, Patrick Manning positioned himself somewhere to the right of the center of the Republican Party.
In his 2006 bid for re-election, on his Team Manning campaign web site, the candidate scoffed at what he called "Republicans who act and govern like liberal democrats." He declared, "If we are not willing to stand up for taxpayers and fight for tax cuts, we deserve to lose and we will.... Lift this onerous tax burden from the backs of our people and there is no limit to what we can achieve. Cut the size and cost of government and there is no limit to the jobs our small businesspeople can create."
How does he square this laissez-faire rhetoric with his organization's advocacy for the Community Preservation Act, a property tax, and with his support for the Housing Bank bill that will go before the state legislature again this year?
Quite easily, it turns out. Mr. Manning believes the housing problem on the Island is so critical that a partnership of private and public efforts is necessary, so pervasive that it cuts across the usual boundaries of political debate. And he believes that with enough hard work from Island advocates, the state legislature can be persuaded this year to let Islanders decide whether to create a Housing Bank modeled on the success of the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank, which was created in 1985.
"I've always been a staunch proponent of home-rule legislation," he says, "be it for open space or affordable housing or the environment or tourism. Communities themselves know better than centralized government what's best for them. And in this case, if we let the market forces work without government watching over to see that everyone gets to play in the pool, then there would be those who are unable to reach their dreams.
"Our new governor has made it clear that affordable housing needs to be addressed, whether it's in the Back Bay or here on the Island. And I think the legislators are going to go for it this year. But you know the old saying, the harder I work, the luckier I am. We've got a lot of work to do."
Pat Manning smiles at the suggestion that as a legislator in New York, his politics might have been closer to Gingrich's Contract with America than to FDR's New Deal. "But you know," he says, "that's an interesting analogy. If it's about finding solutions that are not Big-Brother based, I'll agree with you. But even Newt Gingrich was hailed for his continued work with Habitat for Humanity. Whether you're liberal or conservative, whether you're Newt Gingrich or Jimmy Carter, it doesn't make a difference when there's an issue that strikes all Americans. And something I believe is un-American is the fact that people here, even when they're hard-working, honest and law-abiding, that they can't live where they grew up, that they can't start a family, just because of market forces beyond their control. That's where government works the best.
"Look, this is a problem that transcends politics. Because we all know someone who's been impacted in some fashion. And you know, one thing I've found here is that no matter who comes through these doors, they never introduce themselves as a Democrat or a Republican - they're just a family in need. And that's the way it should be."
Nis Kildegaard's reporting appears frequently in The Times. Mr. Kildegaard is the editor of Framework, the Journal of Affordable Housing on Martha's Vineyard. Frameworks is published by a consortium of housing organizations that includes the Island Affordable Housing Fund. Patrick R. Manning, as the director of the Housing Fund, is, ex officio, one of the publishers of Framework.