Updated @ 1:30 pm
The Tisbury zoning board of appeals has given the green light to a proposal that may ultimately provide workforce housing for Martha’s Vineyard Hospital employees, Jeff Kristal, the board’s chairman, confirmed.
Island Housing Trust (IHT) plans to purchase the Hanover House Inn and turn the 4,300-square-foot main building into 14 bedrooms with private bathrooms. Those apartments would share a kitchen, dining room, laundry, refrigeration, and storage. A 1,300-square-foot secondary building will be converted into two one-bedroom apartments, for a total of 16 workforce apartments.
With the zoning board’s approval in hand, IHT will move beyond a letter of intent to securing a master lease with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital for its workers, Philippe Jordi, executive director of IHT, told The Times.
“It’s a new model for us, and to a certain extent the hospital,” Jordi said. “It seems like a good fit in terms of what their needs are.”
Asked why IHT is playing the middleman for the hospital, which has the deep pockets of Partners Healthcare behind it, Jordi said the Hanover House deal meets IHT’s mission to create housing that will be available for generations.
The hospital already spends about $2 million per year on employee housing, and still has workers who have difficulty finding housing, Denise Schepici, the hospital CEO, said.
“The hospital rents on the open market, and it’s unstable,” Jordi said. “We can provide long-term stability when it comes to housing stock for lower-earning employees.”
Working with IHT makes sense for the hospital, Jordi said. “The mission alignment is clearly there. We’re both nonprofits,” he said. “The hospital is the largest employer on the Island. Their job is to keep people healthy and get them well. It’s not really to purchase real estate.”
Schepici told The Times she was approached early on by Jordi with the out-of-the-box idea. “It’s a step in the right direction,” she said. “It’s not going to be the end-all and be-all of our housing issues.”
The costs for housing bring no direct benefit to patient care, Schepici said. So any money the hospital can save is put back into direct patient care. “Fourteen rooms is not going to make a huge dent, but it’s a step in the right direction,” she said. “If we can create more stable, affordable housing for staff, we can attract more people who want to work on-Island. It’s the vision we have, and we have to take steps to get there.”
This type of relationship could become a model for other organizations, like the schools, Jordi said. “The schools have been offering jobs, some of them good-paying jobs, to teachers who turn around and leave because they can’t find housing.”
Jordi said IHT will attempt to secure financing for the purchase of Hanover House by the end of June, close in August, and hopes to get renovations done and have the apartments available by Jan. 1. Hanover House is on the market for $2.35 million.
Kristal said the zoning board will send a letter to the board of selectmen asking that a payment in lieu of taxes, known as a PILOT, be negotiated that takes into consideration what happens if the hospital is no longer the leaseholder.
“We want to support affordable housing, we can’t do it with increasing the existing tax burden that taxpayers already have,” Kristal said. “We need to recover it.”
Jordi said IHT is committed to negotiating a “fair and equitable” PILOT for the nonprofit and the town.
The zoning board put conditions on the permit to meet concerns raised by neighbors to the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road property, including its parking lot and seeking an additional curb cut from the town’s DPW.
Both Kristal and Jordi said some of the concerns about room taxes that will be lost when Hanover House is no longer renting to visitors would likely be addressed in new legislation aimed at taxing other rental properties.
Schepici said she looks forward to continuing work with IHT. “I’m thrilled, and the zoning board was very favorable,” she said of Thursday’s vote. “It was nice to see the advocacy for the hospital.”
Updated with comments from Denise Schepici – Ed.