Affordable housing advocates celebrate 6 Water Street completion

Steve Bernier, center, cuts the ribbon at the new Water Street apartment complex in Vineyard Haven. — Stacey Rupolo

Four years of planning, permitting and building culminated Tuesday afternoon in a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony for 6 Water Street, a six-unit affordable rental complex in downtown Vineyard Haven.

Richard Leonard of West Tisbury, a longtime Island banker and chairman of the Island Housing Trust (IHT), told the gathering, “This is called collaboration. The staff and the board at IHT have worked very hard to make this happen, but it couldn’t possibly do what we do without collaboration. This is businesses, this is voters, this is banks — the Edgartown National Bank, who did the permanent financing here as well as supporting our application at the Federal Home Loan Bank for major grants.”

Mr. Leonard praised Tisbury for voting to allocate Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, and thanked the voters of West Tisbury, who voted to spend CPA funds across town lines.

Mr. Leonard also gave kudos to Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier, who donated the land, valued at $700,000, to IHT in 2012. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Steve Bernier,” he said.

“This is all about community,” Mr. Bernier said. “If you flip open a Bible, you don’t have to turn many pages to find words that say ‘Love thy neighbor.’ This is a good demonstration of us as a community, showing love for our neighbors. We need other business owners who own property to think about something like this.”

Mr. Leonard also had praise for the late Jamie Weisman, the original architect on the project. “I wish he was standing here with us today so he could hear us. But I’m sure he’s here; we just don’t recognize him.”

“This is the kind of housing we need, it’s in-town, and it’s year-round, which helps keep the fabric of our community intact,” Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said. “It’s close to a transportation hub, so theoretically you don’t need an automobile to live here.”

IHT executive director Philippe Jordi told The Times that project funding was also a collaborative effort. “We received one-third from donors, one-third from towns [Tisbury and West Tisbury CPA], and then leveraged that to get one-third from the state,” he said. “Towns don’t have to do it all, donors don’t have to do it all, the state doesn’t have to do it all. If we all work together, we can do a lot more.”

Mr. Jordi said IHT secured permanent financing of $185,000 from the Edgartown National Bank; a grant of $390,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston (FHLB) with the participation of the Edgartown National Bank; along with $420,000 in CPA funding from Tisbury and West Tisbury; and donations from individuals and foundations totaling over $350,000.

Per the conditions of FHLB funding, four of the apartments were designated for people earning 50 percent or less of Dukes County area median income (AMI), and two were designated for those making 60 percent or less of AMI. Sixty percent of AMI for Dukes County is $35,580 for a single person. Fifty percent of AMI is $29,650 for a single person. All apartments are one-bedroom, so there is a maximum of two adults per apartment. “We have been focused on 60 percent AMI; that’s where the waiting list is the longest,” Mr. Jordi said.

Two 6 Water Street lottery winners opened their doors to the public. Vineyarder Noah Mayrand said getting a year-round apartment was like “getting a massive weight” off his shoulders. Mr. Mayrand graduated from MVRHS in 2007 and went on to study at Tufts University and the Museum School in Boston. He grew up on Pine Street in Tisbury, just a few blocks from his new home. Like many Islanders, he works an assortment of jobs — catering, plumbing, and oyster farming.  He found out in June he had been selected for one of the apartments. “I was so excited. I could finally stop worrying about it,” he said.

Upstairs from Mr. Mayrand, Niki Herbert had transformed her apartment into a shrine to the Boston Red Sox, complete with two seats from the pre-renovation Fenway Park. Ms. Herbert works for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Martha’s Vineyard Airport. She’s been living on the Island for two years, but would have had to leave if she hadn’t hit the affordable housing Lotto. She initially heard she didn’t get an apartment, she said, but later got the good news from Dukes County Regional Housing Authority administrative coordinator Barbara Hoffman. “Barbara has been amazing through all this. I can’t thank her enough,” Ms. Herbert said, in a chowder-thick Boston accent. “I thought I was going to have to move.”

Long way home

The apartment complex was erected on the site where a crumbling house stood for many years.

In 2012, Mr. Bernier purchased the house and land at 6 Water Street to thwart plans announced in spring 2011 by Stop and Shop Supermarket Co. to expand its Vineyard Haven store.

In May 2012 he donated the property to the IHT, with a deed restricting all or part of its use to affordable housing. The deed also contains a restriction against using the property for anything related to the supermarket business, or for any business that would compete with Cronig’s Market.

The building’s design stemmed from a unique process that involved the Island community. IHT put out a request for design proposals in March 2013, and after consultation with the Tisbury planning board, historic commission, and affordable housing committee, selected architect James Weisman of Terrain Associates in Vineyard Haven.

In 2014, the IHT project was referred to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for review. The MVC voted unanimously on July 17, 2014, in favor of the project.

The Tisbury zoning board of appeals (ZBA) unanimously approved the project in October 2014.

Mr. Jordi said the total project cost, from planning and permitting to construction, is $1,421,593, not including additional donations to pay for part of the solar electric panels. The energy-efficient building has 9 inches of insulation and German-manufactured triple-glazed windows. “We haven’t closed out the project yet, but it looks like we will be coming in close to budget,” he said.