It’s not just about income


To the Editor:

I am moved to write this by an article in The Times last week about the difficulties associated with providing a winter rental [Winter rentals are not for everyone, October 2].

An unstated presupposition was that of course a property owner should seek to maximize income, and obviously the way to do that is summer rentals. Given this assumption and a narrative of landlord woes, the conclusion is equally obvious that renting in the winter may just not be worth the trouble and risk.

I feel strongly that this is a narrow and wrong-headed view. Wrong-headed because of the corrosive effect of the twice-a-year “Vineyard Shuffle.” And narrow because it places the landlord in some way apart from the community, in it but not of it, alienated by the very act of exploiting our shared paradise as a money machine. So divided, we slowly fall, dessicated like that tall oak over there, afflicted by cynipid wasps.

In an environment of scarce resources priced at what the market will bear, great disparities of wealth and means have a demoralizing effect, too often quite literally a resetting of the moral thermostat that governs the conduct of individuals and families. One in three of us must rent to live here. If one feels at a disadvantage, with a sense of unfairness rubbed in one’s face twice a year and often enough in between, can a lack of care and stewardship of the landlord’s property be so much a surprise? If appearances represent a dog-eat-dog world with each looking out for number one and devil take the hindmost, what happens to that mutual aid and reciprocity so essential to community?

I have some modest rental space at my disposal, but I refuse to participate in this seductive but toxic tango with Moloch. My daughter is occasionally annoyed with me because we could make so much more money with summer rentals. And it’s not easy finding good, reliable year-round tenants with whom we can have a good, humane relationship as neighbors. But I insist. Building community is more important than funding winter trips south for me and mine, and by far the more valuable investment for my children and grandchildren to inherit.

Because in the end, community is our real treasure here. It’s the beating heart that animates each least and grandest thing that we cherish about Martha’s Vineyard, that which draws and holds us, natives and visitors and all shades between. Only in community have we been able to protect our natural environment, to stave off (mostly) the chains and franchises that elsewhere overwhelm and usurp small businesses, to prevent our streets and roads from being walled in with sign after flashy sign, and so on and on through the litany of distresses we see and feel every time we make a trek off Island, and all the reasons we breathe and relax with relief on coming home. Home to our Island.

So, fellow landlords and landladies, I urge you to consider putting at least a little of your rental property back into that piteously small proportion of Vineyard housing stock that is available for rent year-round.

Bruce Nevin