For 30 years, Island Elderly Housing (IEH) has put roofs over the heads of many low-income elderly and disabled residents on Martha's Vineyard, providing quality, affordable housing with the support of federal funding and generous donations of land.
Founded in 1976 by Carol Lashnits, Margaret Love, and Marguerite Bergstrom, IEH grew from its first project at Hillside Village to include three more campuses, Woodside Village, Love House, and Aidylberg, for a total of 165 apartments with 170 residents. Twelve separate building projects have been built in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, and construction and rents subsidized with financing from the Federal Housing Authority (Rural Division) and the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As of January 2007, the annual income limit for a single individual to qualify for housing was $25,100.
Looking to the future
This year, IEH not only reached a milestone anniversary but also experienced a monumental change with the retirement of Ms. Lashnits, the organization's first and only executive director, in September. Ann Wallace, an IEH board member for 10 years and the former director of Women's Services at Martha's Vineyard Community Services, now serves as the interim executive director.
Although IEH board members say they will be looking for a new director, they also plan to reevaluate both the director's role and the organization's future.
"We're not just going to be replacing an executive director - we are also at somewhat of a turning point," said board clerk John Early, a contractor and former long-time West Tisbury selectman. "Carol Lashnits is irreplaceable, as far as I'm concerned, but we're embarked on a slightly altered mission now. We've got housing - we've got a lot of it - and we have to maintain it, too."
Matthew Stackpole, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Museum, has served on the IEH board for more than 10 years and is currently vice president. "It's a challenge to sustain what we created and make sure we keep it going," he said. "Any organization that has evolved as much as this one needs to take stock periodically. We're at a moment when the time is right, when we have time to do that."
Meals and wheels, important services
Next week, IEH begins a fundraising campaign to raise money for two supplemental programs, run by service coordinator Ann Baird. One provides residents with nutritious dinners three nights a week in a community and social setting, and another provides them with van service by driver Kevin McFarland three days a week for errands, appointments, and shopping. Both programs supplement other services in the community. IEH receives no funding for the programs. Residents pay $4 for dinners and $3 per van trip, which covers about one-third of the actual costs.
"We're moving into a different mode where we have to do something that we haven't done before, and that's really to mount a fundraising effort to be able to continue to provide special services to the residents," Mr. Early said. "As long as we were in a building mode, there was some funding that was available from that process to do some things to take care of certain expenses, which are no longer being covered in the same way."
IEH board chairman Robert Edmunds, rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, said the supplemental support services are "really the heart and soul of what we're about - that's the stuff that makes people feel like they belong and feel like part of the community, rather than just a tenant."
One of the delicate and complicated services IEH performs is supporting people's independence, Mr. Stackpole said. "That's where the support services come in," he said. "We want people to be safe but as independent as they can be."
The IEH tenants also participate actively in programming for themselves, Mr. Edmunds pointed out. "This is not a bunch of folks sitting around rocking a lot, I'll tell you that," he said. "They're a very busy bunch and fun to be around."
The organization also has helped keep families together, Mr. Stackpole said, as many Islanders have moved loved ones into Island Elderly Housing so they can live near them. As Mr. Edmunds observed, "The community is graying, and what we have seen over the years is lots of folks, families who are working people here on the Island, who have brought their parents here." He added, "So a lot of our tenants are people who are well-connected to the community through their younger family members, which has been a real service to the whole Island that way."
In an interview with The Times in September, Ms. Lashnits said that IEH has all but met the needs for low-income elderly housing on Martha's Vineyard. "Obviously, when you do low-income housing for the elderly, there's a turnover," Ms. Wallace said in a phone call last week. "At least at the moment, we think we've met the needs - it may be that we'll be doing a needs assessment soon, so it's giving us an opportunity to do that, which is great."
Mr. Edmunds agrees that it is time to take stock. "The expansion that Carol Lashnits pulled off is just huge and dramatic and great. Having said that, with 30 years of expansion under our belt, we've got to think about, okay, now what?" he said. "So it really is assessment time. We're assessing our internal situation - what changes do you make for a new management structure, if that's appropriate? And then we'll also take a look at getting connected a little more fully to the affordable housing community on the Island."
Mr. Edmunds also serves on the board of Havenside, which houses middle-income elderly. He said he thinks IEH and other affordable housing organizations should become better connected and work collaboratively.
"With a chance to think about the future, we may have a chance to offer something to the community with our expertise, and also evaluate what the future needs are for elderly housing - the whole package," Mr. Edmunds said.
Mr. Early also works with other housing groups, serving on the Island Affordable Housing Fund and on the Island Housing Trust Board. He agreed there is a need to bring everyone to the table. "We're all in this together, and I think there needs to be a continuum of housing right through from the people who are getting their first home to the people who are in their last home, basically," he said. "That's neither here nor there for Island Elderly Housing, but we definitely fit into the system."
That kind of collaborative effort may help shape IEH's future initiatives, Mr. Edmunds said. In the meantime, he said he and the other board members, who also include Dianne Wilson, Frederic Presbrey, Bill Arsenault, and residents Al Hopp and Roberta Mendlovitz, plan to keep IEH's momentum going with the fundraising campaign that starts next week.
"We have a great appreciation for the Island community for their ongoing support through a variety of people," said Mr. Edmunds. "The town of Oak Bluffs and the town of Vineyard Haven have all been very supportive, and the Island in general, too. We've got great neighbors, and the town governments and Martha's Vineyard Commission have been very supportive. For that, we are grateful, because we couldn't be where we are without their cooperative efforts as well, that's for sure."