NIMBYism is alive


To the Editor: 

I have to start by putting it bluntly: July 7’s letter to the editor (“Housing initiatives raise questions”) is one of the most absurd bits of NIMBY blather I’ve ever read, with some inaccuracies so jarring that I am surprised it was published in the first place.

Apparently affordable housing — the one avenue remaining for those islanders who would like to continue to live here, Islanders who are trying desperately to not get displaced due to the economic earthquakes occurring but will never feasibly be able to afford a million-plus-dollar house — is tantamount to “not being able to afford it by their own means, and guilting others.” This is followed by a concern about a raise in taxes that “shows neglect for the community,” which affordable housing apparently involves. This is a bizarre allegation which seems to imply one of two things: 1) an outdated and outright false notion that affordable houses do not pay property taxes; or 2) an assumption that those who live in affordable housing cannot pay taxes. I don’t think I need to point out the irony or hypocrisy in attacking affordable housing in today’s market out of “concern for the community.”

No, chances are the local fishermen, teachers, bus drivers, restaurant workers, emergency personnel, tradesfolk, and so on who keep the community running are not going to be able to “afford it by their own means.” This is a community-level issue which affordable housing attempts to work toward alleviating. This isn’t “guilt,” this is, quite frankly, sober calculation.

But beyond that are other, more bizarre insinuations. Notable is that IHT (Island Housing Trust) is, checks notes, anti-groceries? “In keeping with the IHT’s agenda, an expansion and much-needed upgrade of the V.H. Stop & Shop market, a basic necessity for many Islanders, was denied.” Not sure if this fellow realizes that they’re a nonprofit, one that prides itself on low overhead. Perhaps he sees its continuing existence as self-interested? I suppose in that way, daily consumption of food or water is base egotism.

In the end, what really reads in this strange piece is that this gentleman didn’t like the Water Street apartments in Vineyard Haven for some reason, and is nervous about the Lambert’s Cove development. To this, there is of course an argument to be expressed and heard. But when it takes the form of such cynical bloat, it becomes a mockery of its own argument. It makes clear that the spirit of “not in my backyard” is as much of an obstacle to continuing to preserve the Island’s community as some self-interested folks, such as those who are pretending to oppose the housing bank out of supposed “environmental” issues.

Let’s be real for a second: The Island needs affordable housing. Housing prices have gone from an out-of-reach $700,000 median to an impossible $1,000,000 median in a year’s time. And to be completely honest, even affordable housing is not enough, but rather we need to go to the root, and reflect on our relationship to property as a commodity, rather than as a societal resource. But affordable housing is a vital push in the right direction at a dire time. There is no sign of this slowing or stopping, especially as more investors see opportunities to use the Island’s housing as portfolio pieces. If nothing is done to stop this trend, the local community will cease to exist. This is not a joke.


Tom Ellis



PS: I am also absolutely and constantly baffled when people complain about the one, sole affordable housing developer on the Island, a developer which takes great pains to protect the environment and build in accordance with what natural environment and cultural environment exists there, such as preserving and occasionally building around trees and trying to tear down as little as possible — and then conveniently miss the fact that every other building in Edgartown, for instance, has been torn down and turned into a McMansion over the past three years. If this attitude doesn’t come from self-interested hypocrisy, it comes from an extreme level of blindness.