On Thursday, after years of intensive planning and a combined effort between the Aquinnah Community Preservation committee (CPC), the Aquinnah housing committee (AHC), the Island Housing Trust (IHT), Williams Building Co., several contributing banks, and many other members of the community, two Island families now have their own homes.
About 12 years ago, members of the AHC dug through a long list of empty lots and foreclosed properties and found a six-acre lot that was behind in taxes at Smalley’s Knoll, off State Road in Aquinnah.
The AHC reached out to the property owners and asked them if they would be willing to sell. Initially, their asking price was a little high, but according to project director for IHT Derrill Bazzy, they eventually agreed to sell the property to the town at a generously discounted price. The lot was sold to the town by Helen Mays, whose grandfather, Russell Smalley, owned the property.
The two families and new property owners, the Ives and the Benoits, cut the green ribbon signifying the start to their new lives. “It’s an amazing feeling; our son Louie loves to explore, and there is plenty of space. He is already checking out the place,” Taylor Ives said as his infant son Louie crawled around the property adjacent to the newly built house. “We are very excited and can’t wait to move in,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s wife Sarah smiled as she admired the surrounding woodlands and spoke to friends and family. “It is a very happy time for our family, we have waited for this for a long time,” Sarah said.
After the ribbon-cutting, Nancy Benoit hugged her husband Jimmy and daughter Laina in celebration. “Housing on-Island is so hard. We were just crossing our fingers and praying for the lottery,” Nancy said. “It’s so surreal, we aren’t going to even believe it until we finally sign the lease and move in.”
The two families were chosen from a pool of 10 qualified applicants for both houses, according to Bazzy.
Members of the community involved with the project broke ground on the lot last year, and Williams Building Co. worked hard to raise the houses in only a matter of months.
Bazzy explained the two houses are mirror images of each other, and are based on old Vineyard designs. “The houses have two bedrooms on the bottom floor, and the top floor is unfinished. This allows the families a lot of room to expand if they choose to do so,” Bazzy said. “They both share a septic and a well, making operation and maintenance very affordable.”
Bazzy said the goal of IHT is to provide stability and ongoing comfort to Island families. “In the end, we are keeping two families in town who might not be able to afford to stay here,” he said. “This is about community, stability, and continuity. The journey of 1,000 miles really starts with putting your shoes on.”
These homes, according to Bazzy, are built to last for generations. “Because of their construction and simplicity, these houses will be safe spaces for families, hopefully for many years,” he said.
The two houses are long-term leases, which Bazzy said allows IHT to remain as stewards of the properties, but provide the families with the solidity of having their own space. “These leases are 99-year leases that are renewable at the end of the lease period, so they basically own the house, but IHT can continue to work with families,” he said.
IHT is working with the CPC to create a walking trail behind the properties in conservation land.
Chairman of the Aquinnah housing committee Mike Hebert said all the hard work over the years from so many people has finally paid off. “We made it happen for these families,” Hebert said. “It has been a long haul, but now that construction is finished and these folks are preparing to move in, it’s well worth it.”
Founding director of IHT Philippe Jordi said this project wouldn’t have happened without some generous donors, including Santander Bank, the Cape Light Compact, and construction financing from the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank. Jordi said the IHT has been involved with 62 homes and 26 rental properties over the years.
He said one of IHT’s central goals is to create success and wellness over multiple generations. “This is about the long term, as well as the short term. Obviously it is incredible to see these families with smiling faces as they first enter their new home, but we also try to look down the road and consider the future,” Jordi said. “It’s generational, and it’s forever our responsibility to steward that growth within the community.”
“You see all these people who finally have a steady place to live, and then you see their kids grow up and give back to the community. That is what this is all about.”