West Tisbury selects Habitat to develop three affordable houses


Following more than three years of meetings, discussions, debates, and a special town meeting, West Tisbury selectmen last week named Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard the developer of three affordable houses on Bailey Park Road. Habitat, in partnership with the Island Housing Trust, was the only developer to submit a response to an Affordable Housing Committee (AHC) request for proposals (RFP).

“We are delighted and relieved that the award went in our favor. We never took it for granted even though we were the only responder. Nothing is for real until it is for real,” Doug Ruskin of Edgartown, Habitat vice president and co-chairman of the organization’s building committee, said Wednesday following the vote.

The award comes with four conditions as identified by the AHC consultant Bailey Boyd Associates: three areas of concern focus on language in the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) to be signed. The fourth condition has to do with the issue of the family income of home recipients. The town RFP specified that the home recipients have an income of 80 percent or less of the Dukes County area median income (AMI) for a family of four. AHC member Glen Hearn told the selectmen that he had wanted the eligible recipient to have the 80 percent income level.

However, although Habitat caps eligibility at 80 percent of AMI, most of the recipients have been below 80 percent, because that is where the majority of the need is, Habitat executive director Neal Sullivan said.

On Martha’s Vineyard, that 80 percent of AMI translates to an annual income range of $65,440. A family of four at the 60 percent AMI has an annual income of $49,080.

AHC chairman Michael Colaneri told The Times, “We did not want to use the Habitat model of awarding property to people with the greatest need at the lowest income levels. What they agreed to do was to not exclude people in the 80 percent income level from applying.” The RFP also stipulates that the town has representatives on the family selection committee.

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell read from a memorandum submitted by the Bailey Boyd Associates’ consultant Leedara Zola, who recommended that Habitat be awarded the project. “While missing some elements, the submission is complete enough to indicate that the developer has the experience necessary and understands the goals articulated for the development of high quality, affordable community housing on the Bailey Park parcels,” she said.

Town administrator and procurement officer Jennifer Rand said,”My gut says that if Leedara says this meets the RFP, it meets the RFP.”

Originally the town RFP requested that the selected developer complete the project in 18 months. In its response to the RFP, Habitat committed to build one house a year over the next three years on land the town acquired through tax-taking. Initially, Habitat will pay the town $1 per lot transferred, and at the closing an additional $19,999 for each lot.

The first house will be a 1,344 square foot, three-bedroom, two-bath, ranch-style home that will be created from a donated building moved from the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank property on State Road. The bank will not only donate the building but underwrite the move and a new foundation for the house on its new site. The other new homes will be a three-bedroom, two-bath Cape Cod style home of 1,450 square feet and a two-bedroom one-and-a-half bath Cape Cod style home of 1,254 square feet.

The price of a Habitat home is arrived at based on family income, not the cost of construction, in part because historically Habitat homes are built with two-thirds of the labor and materials donated. The mechanicals that require work to be done by licensed professionals are often discounted as well, according to Mr. Sullivan.

To date, the most expensive Island home Habitat built cost the recipient $190,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bath home at 250 State Road in West Tisbury. Habitat home recipients are required to put down two percent of the price to be paid at the time of closing. Habitat is the mortgage holder, although the Bank of Martha’s Vineyard collects the monthly payments and reports regularly to Habitat. There is no interest charged on the mortgages.

The next step in the development process will be the closing of the LDA between Habitat and the town. After community outreach activities and the construction permitting are complete, Habitat hopes to begin the renovation project on the first home in September. “We lost a whole season of building because the work is done by volunteers, and these are most readily available in the summer months,” Mr. Sullivan told The Times.

In other business, Ms. Mitchell asked for and was granted reconsideration of the vote taken a week ago that established the pay scale for the town’s newly hired administrative assistant.

At the meeting on July 14, there was a lengthy discussion of whether Pamela Thors of Edgartown is in fact a new hire, since she served as the administrative assistant to the town’s assessors for 18 years before that position was eliminated.

At town meeting in April, the voters approved creating the position and a salary of as much as $36,000. The eight-step pay scale for the administrative assistant position ranges from $19.15 an hour at step one to $27.15 an hour at step eight.

During the discussion a week ago, selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter argued that Mrs. Thors is to fill a new position and that she should be paid at the step one or two levels. Ms. Mitchell, a former assessor, acknowledged that it is a new position but said “many of the things she will be doing are things she has done for the board of assessors for eighteen years.” Mrs. Thors was at step eight, earning $35,365 annually.

Last week, the selectmen agreed to a motion to price the job at the step three pay scale or $27,770 annually. Mr. Knabel and Mr. Manter agreed, Ms. Mitchell did not.

This week, Ms. Mitchell moved that Ms. Thors be paid at the step six level. Mr. Manter said a step six is too high because the job is not a highly technical position and that there were “other candidates who could acquire the knowledge needed in a couple of weeks.”

Selectman Richard Knabel said that he acted too quickly a week ago. “I would prefer it to be a step five and would be very comfortable at step five. I should have voted that way last week,” he said.

Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Knabel agreed to new pricing for the job at step five. Mr. Manter voting no. Ms. Thors’ annual salary will be $30,615.

In other business, the selectmen voted unanimously to grant an event permit to the West Tisbury Free Public Library Foundation for its “After Hours” kickoff of the capital campaign, to raise $1.2 million to expand the library. The selectmen waived the $25 permit fee.

The West Tisbury emergency management director John Christensen submitted to the selectmen a draft of the protocol he recommends for use of the Code Red emergency notification system now being developed for the Island. Mr. Christensen said that he has also submitted the draft to the other Island town emergency management directors for their feedback.

Code Red technology is capable of rapidly placing thousands of telephone calls warning of a community danger to landlines and cell phones. Using the white pages and the existing 911 database, the system would currently be able to reach approximately 60 percent of the Island’s residents, or only specific areas of the Island as appropriate to the situation. In an emergency, the designated officials with activation authority would log into the system, provide a password, pin number and then a launch code in order to trigger the system to send out notifications.

Island residents wishing to add landline or cell phone contact information to the Code Red database may do so through the West Tisbury website by clicking on the Code Red icon. The Island-wide test of the system scheduled for mid-July has been postponed to August, Mr. Christensen said.

The selectmen agreed to review the protocol after comments at the July 28 meeting.