Caught in the Vineyard shuffle with nowhere to call home

On Saturday, a group of Islanders met to discuss the increasing lack of summer housing options.

A group of Islanders met Saturday to discuss the lack of year-round rentals. — Photo by Jason Claypool

In the Oak Bluffs library meeting room Saturday, more than a dozen Island residents met to discuss their frustrating search for summer housing. The seasonal shift from off-season to summer housing, a phenomenon more commonly known as the Vineyard shuffle, is not new, but it has become increasingly difficult according to some of those in the room.

Meeting organizers Jayson Claypool and Mellisa Zaccaria said they recently had to make a housing choice every day. They decided where they would park their truck for a night’s sleep.

Stonemason Jeremiah Miller said he did not expect to be scrambling this summer to house his family until their long-term rental unexpectedly became short-term. He must find housing for his wife and two children by July 1.

Lauri Bradway has decades of community service on her 27-year Island resumé but she does not have a home today.

Also searching for housing is Elizabeth Toomey, who served on an Island task force that created the model for the Island Housing Trust, a nonprofit housing organization that is on the frontlines of the effort to create affordable housing.

They were among 17 people gathered in the library meeting room last Saturday afternoon. “This is not an affordability problem,” meeting coordinator Mellisa Zaccaria said. “This is a housing availability problem.” The meeting evolved from a social media campaign Ms. Zaccaria originated in an attempt to find housing for her and her partner, Mr. Claypool. She said the response from people in a similar predicament led her to plan the gathering.

The shuffle

In an email invitation to housing officials titled “Emergency housing solutions meeting in Oak Bluffs,” Ms. Zaccaria said, “Jayson Claypool and I are a couple in Martha’s Vineyard who are currently unable to obtain housing due to a nefarious seasonal rental craze that I’m sure you are familiar with, The Island Shuffle.

“Jayson owns a successful technology solutions LLC and has two children in which he has joint custody. I am a writer and an artist and have convinced Jayson to step in the spotlight and we have begun filming our story, ‘The Shuffle.’”

Ms. Zaccaria said that she and Mr. Claypool had been without housing since April 25 despite searching for months utilizing Facebook housing groups, both Island newspapers, Craigslist, and word of mouth.

“This is not due to a lack of money, but to a lack of housing opportunities,” she said. “Since we became familiar faces on these forums and many saw our post of our first night sleeping in the car, hundreds of other Islanders have responded and stepped forward and are divulging that they are close to or in a similar predicament.”

She said the MV Housing Rental pages on Facebook had evolved into a forum for discussion and debate between owners and renters. “It’s becoming clear that there is a crisis since the summer rental season is coming to a close mid May, and there are hundreds moving into their cars or simply forced to leave altogether.”

On Saturday, Ms. Zaccaria said that friends had provided temporary quarters. “We’re back to the truck on May 10,” she said.

Rental squeeze

On Saturday, meeting attendees were invited to share their stories and to brainstorm ways in which newcomers and long-term residents can access dependable year-round Island housing.

Several in the audience commented on condition of anonymity, citing a fear of being blackballed as troublemakers by Island property owners. Mr. Claypool said several friends had urged him to remain silent about his housing predicament for the same reason.

Several housing advocates attended the meeting, including David Vigneault, executive director of Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, Ewell Hopkins, the former executive director of the now defunct Island Affordable Housing Fund and a newly elected member of the Oak Bluffs planning board, and Marie Doubleday, a licensed mental health counselor and Oak Bluffs representative on the Island Housing Trust.

Mr. Vigneault said the extreme rental squeeze today had its roots in the economic downturn of 2008. “Houses weren’t selling and a good number of them were converted to rental housing,” he said. “So the rental stock improved by 50 to 60 units for several years. Now the real estate market is back and many of those rental properties are off the market. There is no evil conspiracy going on.”

Mr. Vigneault said that town governments are becoming more sensitive to the issue. “There are a lot of new people in place willing to take action,” he said.

Mr. Hopkins said that the Island’s average weekly wage was 29 percent below the state average and the Island median rent was 17 percent above the state average. The median home price was 54 percent above the state average, he said, quoting from a housing needs assessment completed by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) in June 2013.

Mr. Hopkins said commercial interests are served by protecting the Island’s image as a carefree vacation spot. “Because of tourism, we don’t want to tell the world that things that happen there, also happen here,” he said. Mr. Hopkins added that the Island’s isolation exacerbates the problem. “We don’t have (comprehensive) social services here, so we do the things that we can think to do.”

The Dukes County Regional Housing Authority provides subsidies to landlords intended to persuade them to forego summer rentals in favor of year-round rentals. Ms. Doubleday said communities need to find more landlords willing to take those subsidies.

She also commented on an affordability gap highlighted in a MVC report on Island income and housing costs. Ms. Doubleday expressed frustration with state income markers used to qualify residents for affordable housing opportunities. “Many residents cannot afford affordable housing,” she said. “Their income is not high enough to qualify, and the program cannot help them.” For example, a single renter must show between 40 to 50 percent of the Dukes County average median income of $51,700, or about $22-26,000 to qualify.

A second meeting is planned for May 14 at a site to be determined, Ms. Zaccaria told the Times this week. Updates on the May 12 meeting will be posted at, Ms. Zaccaria said.