We found a way to house us all

Building homes closer together could help us solve our housing issues. —Carl Treyz

We all share that profoundly insightful skill of a Monday morning quarterback. However, we all also share a very unclear and often unreliable crystal ball. 

I served for ten years in a leadership role of the Tisbury Finance and Advisory Committee. One of my mundane tasks was to write the annual FinCom report for the Town Report. Same old, same old, so I had a creative notion to compare our current town issues to those of years past. At the library I reviewed Town Reports going back to 1880. It was quite a revelation. They were all the same categorical comments for over 100 years. Nothing really changed. Too many people. Too much traffic. Schools too expensive. Criticisms of ferry service to the Vineyard. Reminds me of that oft used proverb, “Everything changes but nothing changes.”

My crystal ball is no clearer than anyone else’s but I can certainly discern two impactful issues that must be solved, that will be solved. Climate change is the scariest of all concerns and we on the Vineyard are but a grain of sand in addressing this global issue. As a motivated and erudite community, we will do our part generating renewable alternative energy sources and planning for a changing climate. However, the monster slowly destroying our very special community that must be solved, that will be solved, is our Vineyard housing crisis.

In recent time we tested the notion of a Housing Bank and it will happen because it must happen. The Housing Bank will be structured to finance housing for Vineyard working folks and seniors and to include such myriad benefits as low cost financing, down payment assistance, credit education, and development financing. Businesses on the Vineyard will no longer discriminate against those prospective employees that cannot have a residence on our Island. Our children who grow up here will be able to remain and afford home ownership. Our cost of living will cease spiraling because of readily available affordable housing. We must dispel our personal opinion of the definition of “affordable housing.” The only valid definition is housing that folks can reasonably afford.

The notion of affordable housing with deed limitations that provide for homeowners to service a mortgage loan and work to maintain a home but are precluded from making a profit when they sell their home will be recognized as wrong and unfair as everyone should have the opportunity to participate in the American dream of home ownership.

Zoning laws will change to encourage more housing for Vineyard residences and increase height limitations to combat sprawl. Zoning laws will frown on large house lots of over one acre to open up land for many more affordable homes. Smaller homes and even “Tiny Houses” will be supported with zoning.

We will realize a new and powerful attitude change by town officials in the developer entitlement process. These public boards and committees will gain great appreciation and respect for developers who are prepared to provide their financial resources, important growth, and improvements to a town. Town officials with this new enlightenment will appreciate developers with a new and welcoming “How can we help you?” attitude.

Beach Road in Vineyard Haven will transform to become one of  the crown jewels of Vineyard real estate, encompassing all the elements of a working harbor complemented by many new residences with water view homes and shops to complete the equation of downtown living with less need for cars and trucks.

Homelessness, a tragic Vineyard secret, will cease to exist with new facilities to allow the homeless to realign their lives in a healthy and humanitarian environment.

I do not foresee traffic lights, parking meters, and other typical semblances of American city life so the Vineyard will always remain a very unique and special environment.

In sum, I am reminded of that wonderful old song, “I Can Dream Can’t I?”


Robert Sawyer is the author of “Massachusetts Real Estate Principles, Practice & Law,” a real estate law instructor, consultant, developer, and former county commissioner.


  1. This seems to be a very self serving “opinion piece”, that ought to have come with several warnings.
    The author is the same person who hopes to profit from squeezing in 68 housing units into the old Hinckley Lumber lot, dedicating a bare minimum of 17 to affordable classification.
    By omitting this fact, you have not fully informed your readers.
    Maybe the headline should have been, “We have found a way to profit from you all.
    (but in the meantime I will place this “opinion” article to encourage a favorable reception when the MV Commission rejects it)”

    • To be clear – in order to share his vision of what he hopes to accomplish for the Vineyard he needs to explain that he is currently working toward making this happen? Is 17 affordable housing units not enough for you? Are you building 18 any time soon? Stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Adding 17 affordable units means 17 families that can stay on the island for a while longer. Nothing more, but nothing less either.

      Nothing comes without a price. Making a profit while helping the community should be celebrated, not tarnished. If you are waiting for a free solution to the housing crisis on Martha’s Vineyard, you will be waiting forever.

  2. James, I believe this essay is part of the MVTimes’s 2020 New Year’s series of imaginings for the future. It’s another fantasy of what life on the island could be like in 10, 20, 30 or more years from now– in one’s wildest dreams, like imagining only women leaders, a cure for Lyme, and no need for the Food Pantry.

    • Whatever this writing series aspires to, what we do have is an author who has misrepresented himself, with a bunch of aspirational platitudes on housing disguised as a disinterested person.
      The self serving ideals were not discounted down to the paltry 25% affordable ratio relative to those 17 of 68 housing units. That disingenuous sum was clearly to seduce the MVC into granting approval, not an affirmation of the authors ideals.
      Make no mistake about this, the author concealed his true intentions in a thinly veiled attempt to win public favor.

      • James. I agree that people who conceal their real intentions and are disingenuous are at the bottom of the swamp. Thank you for pointing out the authors deception and ill intent.

      • Oh, James. Misrepresenting oneself? Your honey escapades will forever haunt you. We all have crosses to bear, but your slinging mud at someone else adds to your cross’s weight. Affordable housing will require multiple solutions — some public, some private, and some a collaboration. There is no single solution. I saw no bias in the article by the author. His words were not tainted in my mind. I didn’t misread his “true intentions.” The good news is since you’ve started posting in 2020 it must mean you’ve coughed up the cost of an annual subscription to the Times. Thanks for supporting island journalism.

        • “Misrepresenting oneself?“
          Interesting coming from a person who chooses to conceal themselves with a pseudonym.

          • james— there is a difference between maintaining anonymity on a public website and outright fraud. Fortunately , no one died as a result of either.

      • Thanks for pointing out the author ‘s interest. We all have them and need not be concerned when someone illuminates.

  3. And James, exactly what is your solution to the housing crisis on the Vineyard and throughout Cape Cod? At least someone’s focusing on affordable housing out there…assuming the NIMBYs don’t prevail as is all too prevalent when it comes to housing those with an income level below the upper 25%.

  4. All housing is affordable. It is simply a matter of who you want your neighbors to be. You will not solve this problem unless you relax restrictions and increase supply. Restricting house size and profitability on resale; taxing renters in order to create endowments for subsidies, all will fail. Get rid of cronyism and NIMBY and you have a decent chance. The real solution is to let market forces function. The invisible hand of Adam Smith if allowed to work will sort all this out. Picking winners and losers never does. If you dont get enough teachers and policemen and other workers to live here due to high prices the survivors will make other choices. We stopped using the post office due to Fedex. We stopped shopping in malls due to Amazon. We now have food delivered to our homes. People adjust. Let the government get out of the way. Govt ruins everything it touches because it has no profit motive and someone else will pay. This guys Hinckley proposal will never get off the ground due to MVC and nonsensical flooding fears.

  5. It’s always a developer who benefits from building ‘affordable’ housing that advocates for the rest of us to pay for it via ‘housing banks’ and other bureaucracies. Everyone who lives here found a way to make it work. Many ‘children’ grow up in expensive places and either figure out a way to afford it or move elsewhere. Just because you grew up in a pricey zip code does not give you a right to live there when someone else is subsidizing you . (as you enjoy the grossly inflated wages for mediocre work performance). Here’s a thought. It would solve the so-called ‘crisis’ immediately. But the liberal do-gooder phonies here don’t want it in their backyard, and they won’t profit from building the structures. Find a piece of land. Perhaps one of the former landfills that sit vacant. Put in a sewer system and water. Pave a few streets and some ‘pads’. Then truck in some ‘manufactured’ homes. Many of these ‘manufactured homes’ are a lot nicer than the cheap spec houses that litter our developments. Its a long way from the old ‘trailer park’ negative stereotype. But it will never happen. Older density was 15-20 spaces per acres, and current preferred density is 7-9 per acre. That would make a serious dent in the affordable housing ‘crisis’. Not everyone needs to live in a 4 bedroom 2 bath home with a 2 car garage on 1/2 acre…. unless you want to pay for it yourself.

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