“Home is such a beautiful word,” said Michele Norris, part-time Vineyarder and Washington Post columnist in a video presentation at Island Housing Trust’s Virtual Summer Benefit and Campaign Kickoff. And yet, home is increasingly out of reach for so many on Martha’s Vineyard, with skyrocketing real estate prices – a 58% increase in the past two years alone, according to a recent Boston Globe story – and a reduction in supply due to so many short-term rentals. Despite IHT’s work, which, by end of 2020 included 50 new, attainable homes built in four years, more needs to be done and IHT is inviting the community to help.
Alongside Norris in the video – and socially distanced – were Michelle Vivian-Jemison, who moved into her new home last August, thanks to Island Housing Trust’s lottery, and IHT’s executive director Philippe Jordi.
Vivian-Jemison spoke of her constant “scramble” to find housing, moving 25 times in a roughly six-year period. “It’s very very difficult,” she said, especially for those, like her, with children. But because the Vineyard is such a special place, she says, “you want to make that sacrifice to stay.”
The housing situation is only growing worse, confirmed IHT’s Philippe Jordi. “What we’re doing is trying to create some stability in the community that we all depend on.” IHT is doing this with an ambitious campaign to raise $60 million by the end of 2025 in public and private funding. “We know this is possible,” said Jordi.
“We’re offering supporters the chance to fundraise in a peer-to-peer fashion through this Give Lively fundraising site,” said Christopher Anderson, noting IHT is already halfway to its summer goal of $1 million. So far, people have raised funds by undertaking a long-distance bike ride and hosting a yoga event. Other suggestions included donating as a wedding or housewarming gift. It’s a way to engage the community in enlisting friends and family to support an urgent need and tiered giving makes clear where your money will go, whether $250 for a kitchen sink, $500 for energy-efficient windows or $5,000 to paint an entire house.
Community was a key word throughout IHT’s presentation. Vivian-Jemison noted what’s lost when community members need to move off Island because they can’t afford to stay. “You want to make sure that people can stay here, they can raise their children here, give back to the community, give back to the economy,” she said.
Victoria Haeselbarth, an Edgartown resident for 35 years who works helping seniors, shared her story of securing housing two decades ago when she was a single mother. Having a home, she said, “allowed my son and I become contributing member of the community rather than having to leave.” She spoke of older folks she works with who are living in garages, in small boats, in tents, in their cars. “These people are hardworking individuals,” she said, “Some of them are retirees whose incomes don’t bring in enough to pay the rent and basic living expenses … One of the few things I can’t do [for them] is manifest a home.”
Fundraising committee chair Wendy Wolf spoke of IHT’s successes but also of the need to keep going forward. “Since 2006, IHT has created  affordable ownership and rental units. It has 36 units in the pipeline for 2021. But, we need your help.” She spoke of stretch giving, multi-year commitments, low-interest loans to IHT, as well as using our voices and votes to ensure zoning changes to alleviate housing problems.
Ultimately, it all comes down to a simple problem with a simple solution. People in our community need affordable housing and IHT can make that happen with the community’s help. It all comes down, as Michele Norris put it, to helping create “home.”
Michelle Vivian-Jemison struggled to put words to what it meant for her and her family to finally have a home they can remain in. “It’s something to feel as if you cannot be moved if you don’t want to be. You’re safe. You feel safe. And it’s something I wish for everyone to have.”