On Friday, Island Housing Trust (IHT) held a dedication for Kuehn’s Way, which will feature 20 affordable apartments for 60 year-round residents. Kuehn’s Way is to be built at 937 State Road in Tisbury. Construction for the apartments’ foundations is underway; they will be ready for residents to move in early in 2022.
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and Tisbury select board member Roy Cutrer also joined the celebration.
Kuehn’s Way was named in memory of Bob Kuehn, a longtime advocate for affordable housing who produced over 2,000 residential units for the Island. Kuehn is also known as the “grandfather of CPA ” for his part in bringing the Community Preservation Act to Massachusetts, which provides funding, in part, to affordable housing projects. IHT has received Community Preservation funds to help pay for its projects across the Island.
IHT bought the Kuehn’s Way property in 2015 for $1.2 million in collaboration with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, which is protecting 10 acres for conservation, and paid for half of the acquisition.
“What we’re seeing is dramatic,” said Philippe Jordi, executive director of IHT. “We’ve lost literally 600 year-round homes that have been sold and converted to seasonal and short-term rentals, so we are now at a record low of year-round homes in our total housing stock, which is now at 38 percent.” If nothing is done about the situation, the downward plunge will continue, according to Jordi.
“This housing situation breaks my heart,” said Abbe Burt, vice chair of the Tisbury affordable housing committee. Burt said she thinks a key factor of the problem is the economics behind Martha’s Vineyard housing. Many of the wealthy households are seasonal. Martha’s Vineyard’s publicity also increased from visits by presidents and athletes in the 1990s, according to Burt. “Worker bees,” such as teachers, and other types of people such as artists, who choose to remain on the Island have difficulty with housing on the Island. Burt said these “worker bees” must be retained in order for Martha’s Vineyard to maintain its quality of life.
As the leading nonprofit developer of houses in Martha’s Vineyard, Jordi said IHT has built 120 properties for rent and ownership in the past 15 years. “We have a bold goal. We’re not going to stop there. We have yet another effort underway right now to make 150 new homes by the end of 2025,” he said. This goal will be accomplished with the collaboration of the state, Island towns, local businesses, and philanthropic donors.
“The mission of IHT is to ensure the Island has a vital and diverse community. We support them regardless of income,” said Jefrey DuBard, a member of the IHT project development committee. “We are incredibly privileged to live in this magical place.”
DuBard said that the community protects the Island’s environment well. However, more must be done to protect the Island’s community, whose individuals come from a variety of economic, religious, ethnic, and other types of backgrounds. The everyday people of the Island, such as cashiers or bus drivers, are not having their housing needs met. “We all need to contribute. It’s our community. The secret of it is what we give and support to our community, we get back threefold,” said DuBard.
Fernandes said Martha’s Vineyard is “very lucky” to have IHT spearheading the efforts to fix the housing crisis. The housing crisis was an issue before, but the pandemic has “exacerbated it,” Fernandes said.
“We really have a question here of what type of Island we want to become. Whether we want to have a sustainable, year-round, vibrant, and diverse community, or one that is kind of a shell of its former self,” said Fernandes.
The Island’s rising housing costs lead to other problems. “If you are housing-insecure, that means you are food-insecure, that means you are childcare-insecure, that means you’re forgoing payments on healthcare and other critical issues in your life,” Fernandes said. “So this is a fundamental issue, a fundamental right for people here on-Island and all over the state.”
IHT projects require a lot of capital and cooperation to make places like Kuehn’s Way a reality.
The town of Tisbury provided $1.5 million over the years, beginning in 2016. “It’s pretty gratifying to actually see the buildings in the ground and the fact that there are 20-some-odd year-round rental units,” said Burt.
Millions of dollars were provided for Kuehn’s Way from other sources as well, such as the Martha’s VIneyard Bank, government bodies, and various foundations, according to Jordi.
On Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced in a press release $7.02 million for four Massachusetts communities through the Community Scale Housing Initiative (CSHI) awards, of which Kuehn’s Way received $1.01 million. CSHI is a joint effort by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development and MassHousing.
Jordi said the fundraising efforts are not over. IHT is currently working toward raising $1 million. The disruption of the supply chain by COVID and vandalism on the site caused unexpected costs. Jordi said he is sure IHT will receive the support it needs from the community. “We need more Kuehn’s Ways,” said Jordi.
The afternoon’s event ended with a ceremonial shoveling of the ground by the IHT staff and individuals from organizations that are a part of Kuehn’s Way’s construction.
Jordi expects the ribbon cutting of Kuehn’s Way will occur in early 2022.