Habitat completes 13th home, for Cortez family

The house, made mostly from recycled and donated materials, will be home to two veterans

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The Cortez family at their new home on Marion’s Way.–Kyra Steck

On Saturday, Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard officially welcomed the Cortez family to their new home in Vineyard Haven. 

The new house on Marion’s Way, which took a year to complete, is the 13th house Habitat has built on the Island. With a spacious yard, wrap-around deck, and carpet thick enough for the kids to do gymnastics on, Tony and Vikki Cortez said the house is everything they could have ever wanted for their family. 

For Tony Cortez, Martha’s Vineyard has always been home. He grew up on the Island, living in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, and was a defensive end on the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School football team. “My roots are here,” he said. After graduating from MVRHS and attending Bridgewater State University, Tony enlisted in the National Guard, where he met Vikki. The two were married in 2010, and decided to return to Martha’s Vineyard in 2015 after having their daughter, Brielle. 

Tony and Vikki Cortez struggled to find permanent housing after their return, and moved six times in five years. When they filled out the application for the new Habitat for Humanity house, they were living on the top floor of a shared home in Edgartown, with little space or privacy, and no backyard for their children. Two months after applying, they received the good news. 

“They called and said, Congratulations; it was the most amazing phone call of my life,” said Tony.

Since 1996, Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard has worked to build affordable houses on the Island. “Our philosophy, our motto, is everybody deserves decent, affordable housing,” said executive director Greg Orcutt. The Cortez’s home is affordable in perpetuity, and the family will hold a mortgage with 0 percent interest. Additionally, while the Cortezes own the home, the land itself is placed in a land trust, ensuring that the property will remain affordable well into the future.

As the most recent house built on Martha’s Vineyard by Habitat, the new home on Marion’s Way stands as a testament to the Island’s generosity. More than 40 volunteers, organizations, and companies participated in the project, donating time, labor, and necessary supplies. The house was made possible by myriad contributions: Marion Halperin donated the land, the Island Housing Trust donated all architectural plans, and all hard costs were covered by the Tisbury Community Preservation committee and the Tisbury Municipal Housing Trust, who collectively donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the project. Even Sharky’s Cantina donated lunches for all the volunteers, every Saturday for more than 30 weeks. 

“You can just tell how close this community is, being part of something like this,” Vikki Cortez said. 

Additionally, Habitat for Humanity takes advantage of recyclable materials as often as possible. Before a house in Tisbury or Edgartown can be demolished, the organization is notified, and allowed to tour the property and scout for reusable supplies. All doors and nearly all windows in the home were recycled, as well as the bathtubs and bathroom sinks. The cedar ceiling on the first floor and the outside deck were recycled from a house on Chappy. 

Construction officially began last May. The Cortezes were on-site almost every weekend, quickly surpassing the 400 hours of work that Habitat for Humanity asks future home owners to contribute to the project. The coronavirus proved to be an unpredictable setback, immediately halting all progress from March until mid-May, but the Cortezes remained patient and optimistic throughout. Now, seeing the finished project, they say it exceeded all of their expectations. 

“We are so thankful to everybody who’s been here, who’s picked up a nail, who’s thrown trash away for us. Really, everyone who has contributed, thank you,” said Tony Cortez.