Housing needed now more than ever

Island Housing Trust kicks off fundraising campaign with Monday morning brunch.

Bob Vila, known for his years as host of This Old House, was advocating for new housing at the Island Housing Trust's virtual brunch Monday. — Screenshot

There was no tent. No lovely vistas of golfers at Farm Neck. No fluffy eggs or fruit bowls. And there were no mimosas (at least not visible on the Zoom screens). But the sun was shining on Martha’s Vineyard, and Island Housing Trust (IHT) was making its annual appeal to donors in a new virtual setting, but with the same clear message — the need for year-round, affordable housing on Martha’s Vineyard remains critical.

“The coronavirus has made it painfully clear that stable, year-round housing is critical to everyone’s safety and well-being,” Philippe Jordi, executive director of IHT said. “Many of our homeowners are on the frontlines of today’s crisis, including hospital nurses, grocery clerks, Steamship Authority employees, home health aides, and hospital workers, to name a few.”

Jordi said the nonprofit has responded and adapted to the pandemic by generating its first online annual report, and has continued the construction of housing at three locations in Vineyard Haven, which will produce eight home ownership opportunities and seven apartments.

“At the Island Housing Trust, we believe that the silver lining is that we’re becoming stronger and more resilient as we adapt and innovate together as a community during these unprecedented times.”

The brunch was kicked off by the booming voice of Bob Vila, well-known as the host of “This Old House” and other home improvement shows. “Diana and I arrived 10 days ago, so we’re looking forward to when our quarantine period will come to an end,” he said, referring to his wife Diana Barrett.

“She’s been practicing her sewing skills in making these little guys for us,” he said, holding up a homemade mask. “When we got here, one of the first things Diana said to me was, ‘You know, the Island is really a state of mind.’ It is so very true that all of us who come here seasonally enjoy the uplifting peace of mind that comes with the beauty of the nature.”

He talked about being in the Peace Corps 50 years ago, and helping to build housing in Panama. “All of us who come here just from Memorial Day to Labor Day enjoy the hell out of the place, and of the towns and of the beaches … and all of those who are here year-round are the people who make it possible for us to be kind of carefree citizens of the Island and to really enjoy our time here. So it’s with them in mind that we support the Island Housing Trust work and its mission to end housing insecurity, and we really thank everyone who’s participating in this today.”

Tiffany Manuel, Ph.D., a national housing advocate and the founder of The Case Made, touched on the racial unrest across the nation and ongoing effects of the pandemic: “The basic, continuing needs for shelter, for harmony, for justice, for home, all of those things, have never really been as important as they are in the moment we’re in today. I hope you all feel the importance of this moment.”

She pointed out that the recurring message during the pandemic has been that “we are not alone,” even as people stayed home or are keeping their social distance. “I really want to reiterate that notion, as the Island works to elevate the needs of so many who are struggling to find and afford year-round housing, you are not alone,” she said. The housing crisis has been building for decades all across the country. “And now it really does threaten the very prosperity, the sustainability, and the entrepreneurial ingenuity that the spirit of inclusiveness and belonging that the Island has always had. That thing that you have about everybody feeling like they belong to the community of the Island is in jeopardy if we do not solve this issue.”

She urged those listening in to make the issue of housing part of their dinner conversations, to talk about it with their neighbors, and to contact their government representatives: “Help them understand how important this issue is, and help us lift up the idea that there is something really good happening here with respect to housing, and even more is possible.”

Matt Coffey and Christine Conley, who own an IHT home at Eliakim’s Way in West Tisbury, spoke about the security that their home has given them over the past 10 years. They talked about the sense of community — how families have grown together, built playgrounds and community gardens together, and found ways to live respectfully. 

Coffey said housing stability has allowed him to become the co-owner of his company, designing houses, and Conley went back to school where she became a nurse, and now works at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. “My ability to do that is directly related to the security of having this beautiful, affordable home,” Conley said.

IHT will continue its campaign through July 11, but as of Monday had raised half of its $500,000 goal, Jordi said. This year, donors can use the Give Lively platform to both give and solicit donations from friends and family. Contributors can also text “IHT” to 44321 to get a secure link for donations. During today’s brunch, $11,588 was raised, according to IHT.

Vila ended the virtual brunch, once again calling on donors to be generous in their contributions. 

“We hope you’ll be able to dig deeper into your pockets and continue to support us,” he said. “And continue to tell your friends and neighbors and pass the word along about the work that’s being done here.”