Not so affordable affordable


To the Editor:

Affordable housing on Martha’s Vineyard? Yeah, right. I am the grateful recipient of one such property. In 1999, fresh from my first divorce, mother of three young sons, and pregnant with my fourth child, I won the lottery.

An “affordable” house in a cutesy development in West Tisbury — Tons of meetings, paperwork, covenants, and conversation, and I was a fully fledged homeowner and doubtful cult member.

Married to the only Islander in the “deliberate” community — hardworking and economically challenged — I signed on the dotted lines, ready to agree to anything, i.e.,community work, community meetings galore, potluck socials, dog leashing, enforced rules and regulations. But I had my beautiful three-bedroom house with composting loo in the woods down a dirt road.

Much of the affordable housing premise is well-intentioned and worthy (and necessary). Yet, as selectman Mike Santoro points out in last week’s Times, “I laugh when people say affordable housing on Island. You’re talking about people making $60,000, not people making $25,000.”

Some of the recipients of affordable housing are trust-funders and from Island families with some dollars at their disposal. They are often not the really needy, or like myself, a single mother of five, with two teens still in the home, making less than $30,000 a year.

This development I’m in is a special case, founded by non-Islanders with a mission to set up a deliberate community of houses around a common green with a community building. Actually, they were allowed to build a “cluster development” on the condition that one-quarter of the 16 houses would be “affordable.” Then they tacked on the association fees, depending on bedroom size. Mine is $220 per month, and I’ve lived here since the beginning. I have paid over $40,000 in fees! For road grading, common landscaping, upkeep of the community building, and miscellaneous. That’s college for a kid. A car. Medical bills. Us four affordables, as we called ourselves, like some kind of misunderstood superheroes, tried unsuccessfully to get our fees lowered since they are not in keeping with the moderate income which qualified us for affordable housing.

These days I can barely keep up with the cost of living here, and this fact has fallen on deaf ears. The powers that be, some of whom are directly involved in the affordable-housing movement and work for Duke’s County Housing Authority, simply say, “Why don’t you try to keep up?” Like it’s a choice. My reward for being unable to pay the extortionate fees? A lien on my mortgage and other petty punishments as a result of my “noncompliance.”

In truth, people who are really in need of affordable housing are suffering the most. I appreciate the focus that this topic is being given, but to me, old U.K. socialist that I am, I feel that I’m living in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

So, my ’hood probably wants rid of me, because I’m not one to follow the herd, and tend to speak out, but due to restrictions on the resale of my house, it’s simply not worth me ever selling. Unless the bank takes it away when it becomes an “unaffordable house.”

Sian Rebecca Williams
West Tisbury