Reel-life drama: Martha’s Vineyard’s housing crisis

Documentary premieres at Island Housing Trust brunch.


Updated July 10

A movie premiered Sunday on the Island that’s got a familiar plot. Thousands of young people are on a beautiful Island. It’s the place where some of them grew up and went to school. They went off to college. Now they want to return to live, work, and raise their families.

But because of rising property prices and a lack of affordable housing and rental apartments, they’re being priced out of the market.

Island Housing Trust (IHT), which produced the short movie with Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, is hoping to create a plot twist with the combination of generous donors and government grants. The film premiered at a brunch held Sunday at Farm Neck Golf Club, and is now available on IHT’s website, Doug Ruskin, vice president of the nonprofit’s board of directors, said.

“Without adequate housing, we are in real jeopardy of losing the community we love,” Ruskin told the crowd underneath a tent filled with potential donors sipping mimosas and eating eggs, bacon, and assorted muffins. It was a picture-perfect Vineyard day with a gentle breeze and a sun-splashed sky.

IHT has made a dent in the Island’s housing problem with its goal of adding 100 new units by 2020, but there is still much work to do, Ruskin said. He pointed out the partnership between Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and IHT to provide workforce housing at the Hanover House in Vineyard Haven as one of the innovative approaches being taken.

Chrystal Kornegay, executive director of MassHousing, which has teamed up with IHT on projects including Scott’s Grove, told the crowd that it’s difficult for young people in Massachusetts to afford housing. The annual income needed to afford the average two-bedroom is just under $60,000, and the average worker, earning minimum wage, needs to work 2.6 full-time jobs in order to afford housing. “That’s exacerbated here in Dukes County, where home prices are 85 percent above statewide median and rents are 30 percent above statewide median,” Kornegay said. “Unlike on the mainland, where we say, ‘Drive until you can afford it,’ you can’t do that here.”

This isn’t just about people with the lowest incomes.

“We are now at crisis points where our young people who graduated college and have decent jobs, making $80,000 or $100,000, are having a hard time buying a house,” she said. “And I have to admit, I’m old enough to think that a $100,000 job is a lot of money, and I’m confused about you can’t buy a house making $100,000.”

The major contributing factor is the lack of production of affordable units. In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, 30,000 units of affordable housing were being built per year in Massachusetts. During the past three decades, that production has been cut in half, she said. One of the roadblocks is getting affordable housing zoned. Massachusetts requires a supermajority to approve zoning changes, but Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed allowing a simple majority to approve of zoning changes, she said.

“We’ve got to get back into the housing production game,” Kornegay said.

Baker has also doubled the community investment tax credit, which provides incentive to invest in affordable housing, she said.

Ruskin pointed out that it’s sometimes difficult to get affordable housing zoned because while people support the concept, they don’t necessarily want it next door.

Noah Mayrand and Angela Sison are beneficiaries of IHT’s work. In 2016, Mayrand, a graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, moved into 6 Water St. in Vineyard Haven, a six-apartment rental unit. Mayrand, now 29, grew up on the Island and returned after college. He wanted to stay, but was tired of shuffling between winter rentals and housesitting jobs to live. “I didn’t have options to live on my own,” he said.

He’s an oyster farmer, and Sison is a fashion designer. They are workers vital to the Island’s economy. Both said they have friends who are among those struggling to find affordable options on-Island.

“It comes up in conversation with people our age,” Mayrand said. “We don’t want to have to live with our parents.”

Mayrand and Sison’s story is featured in the short film, “It Takes an Island — A Martha’s Vineyard Story,” produced by Breeze Hodson Tonnesen of IHT with Ollie Becker and Danielle Mulcahy of the film festival. Mayrand and Sison were seeing it for the first time Sunday.

“It was a fun process to speak to others about a problem on the Island,” Sison said.

Tonnesen, Becker, and Mulcahy were given flowers and much applause for their efforts.

“They epitomize exactly what we want here,” Tonnesen said of Becker and Mulcahy. “They feed our souls. They’re artists. They’re beautiful, honest. And they came back from where they were — one Los Angeles and one traveling around the world — to live here and work here. This is not their first film, but it’s their first film here, and my first collaboration with them, and I hope it won’t be the last.”

In order for a sequel to have a better outcome, Delos Lander, a senior vice president at Rockland Trust and an IHT board member who chairs the fundraising committee, urged Sunday’s crowd to write checks to help with ongoing and future affordable and workforce housing projects. (On Tuesday, Tonnesen reported that brunch had already raised $348,000 in donations.)

“Our Island community is at risk due to the affordable housing crisis,” Lander said. “I realize we all love our Island community or we probably wouldn’t be here. I think we’re willing to go to great lengths to protect that.”

Updated with link to movie and report on how much had been raised. – Ed.


  1. When I moved to the island in 1972 I lived a garage, then a tent, and then another garage that actually had a bathroom. If i was 22 again, I would go to another place where there were better opportunities. Just in wareham you can buy a house today for $225,000. Times change. At some point the door must close. If too
    Many live here it is no fun for any of us.

  2. You get `ICE` down here to work with all our police departments and the court system and the end of the housing crisis will be a thing of the past in the blink of a eye! Guaranteed!

    • I disagree. The illegal aliens here are actually a product of the housing crisis, not a cause. The causes of the housing problem are 1) snob zoning, and 2) the ease whereby the wealthy can transfer land into entities that will keep the land (mostly) out of building availability while preserving their (the wealthy) enjoyment thereof. Land thus “preserved” goes off the tax roles – we all understand the outworking of that.

  3. Any young college graduate is unwise to come and live here and try to make a living. There are so many places to go where the cost of living is much lower and the work opportunities are far greater.

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