Island Affordable Housing Fund looks to renters for funding


The Island Affordable Housing Fund has come up with a novel fundraising model that looks at summer renters as a funding source. While that effort appears to hold some promise, reliance on a traditional fundraising model to retire debt on Bradley Square, site of the Island’s first African American church, proved to be disappointing.

The Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the NAACP hosted a $200 per ticket fundraising reception last week at Nectar’s, featuring national NAACP chairman Benjamin Jealous. That was followed by a $75 per ticket concert, to benefit the Bradley Square project.

Ewell Hopkins, executive director of the fund, said the event was not well attended. “We made some money, we did not make a lot of money,” Mr. Hopkins said. “We were disappinted.”

On a more promising note, in an effort to create a more sustainable fundraising model, the nonprofit has begun soliciting funds from summer vacationers who rent. On August 1, the fund began distributing the first of 800 letters that ask renters to contribute one percent of their rental fee to support affordable housing.

With the agreement of many local real estate agencies, the letter has been included in the packet of material renters receive when they pick up their keys. Ewell Hopkins, executive director of the fund, said rental fees are a large part of the Island economy, and the new program raises awareness among summer visitors.

“If we can tap into some of that, the forecasts show really significant money,” Mr. Hopkins said. “We’re looking for predictable sources of contributions, so we can plan responsibly. It will give us a forecastable stream of money.”

Mr. Hopkins said the solicitation letter was included in the rental material prepared for President Obama, who rented Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark for his 10-day Martha’s Vineyard vacation.

Vistors have already sent checks.

“That’s the thing that’s encouraging,” Mr. Hopkins said. “Everyone who has sent in money has said how excited they were. The feedback is very encouraging.”

Jim Feiner of Feiner Real Estate in Chilmark helped coordinate the program for Island real estate agencies.

“Almost everybody I’ve talked to thinks it’s a great idea,” he said. Mr. Feiner is exploring ways to extend the program to real estate professionals and the property owners who rent their homes to visitors.

“I’ve asked that they donate one half of one percent of their rental income to the housing Fund,” Mr. Feiner said. “If you rent your house for $100,000, you write a check for $500. It’s small potatoes.”

Mr. Feiner estimates that the rental of private homes generates more than $150 million in income for property owners, most of it untaxed.

The housing fund has struggled to distribute funds to local housing projects and programs at the same level as it has in the past. The Dukes County Regional Housing Authority rental assistance program, funded in part by the Fund, had to tell participating landlords in the subsidy program several times this past winter that their rental subsidies would be late.

The Bradley Square project contiues to be a drain. One year ago this week, the fund, on the final day of former executive director Pat Manning’s tenure, staged a groundbreaking ceremony for the Bradley Square affordable housing project, which is planned for the corner of Masonic Street and Dukes County Avenue. The project is to include eight units of affordable housing, a sanctuary, and office space, on the site of the Island’s first African American church. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, on the Island for a political fundraising event, attended. Since that day, fundraising for the project has slowed to a pace that only covers the mortgage payments on the property, which was purchased by the fund for $905,000 in 2007.

“We’re no further along,” Mr. Hopkins said. “What we’ve been able to do is hold our ground, maintain the debt servicing.”

The NAACP embarked on a campaign this spring to retire the mortgage on the property, so that donors might be more inclined to contribute to the development costs of the project. “We’re not close to retiring the mortgage yet, and that’s the first step.”

Mr. Hopkins said the Housing Fund board of directors was scheduled to meet Wednesday night. On the agenda are the next steps for the Bradley Square project.