Harbor Homes closes on Oak Bluffs property

New York Ave. House will be open to women soon.



Homelessness and a lack of housing is a well-known issue on Martha’s Vineyard. To combat this crisis, Harbor Homes has led the way in providing respite to homeless individuals on the Island, with a new facility to come. On Wednesday, Harbor Homes closed on an Oak Bluffs property located at 111 New York Ave. to act as its facility for homeless women. Harbor Homes paid $1.3 million for the property, according to the Dukes County Registry of Deeds. 

According to Karen Tewhey, executive director of Harbor Homes, the number of homeless people on the Island has been consistent over the past five years, hovering around 100 individuals. This past year has seen around 80 individuals.

Tewhey said she believed these numbers underestimate the number of homeless people, because they only include those who directly contacted Harbor Homes for help, not the entire homeless population on the Island. Families with children are especially undercounted. “If you’re a parent and you don’t have a secure place to house your kids, you really don’t want to make an announcement about that,” said Tewhey. “People try to be as discreet as possible.” Of the families with children who have contacted Harbor Homes, some families couch-surf, temporarily stay with friends or family, have kids stay with others while parents stay in vehicles, or live in tents during the summer.

Even if people find a roof over their heads, it may not be the ideal place to live. The Harbor Homes website states that “some of the housing being rented on the Vineyard meets the HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] definition of ‘not meant for human habitation,’ and the resident qualifies as homeless.” Tewhey said that the people who reached out to her have lived in various places, such as sheds, garages, lean-tos, vans, and nonfunctioning cars. There is a general agreement that people should not be living in these conditions, but there is just not enough housing or rental units to meet the great amount of demand. “The boards of health are aware of it. We’re all aware of it,” said Tewhey. 

“A lot of the individuals who are homeless are working, or they’ve lived here their entire lives and don’t want to leave the Island,” said Tewhey. 

Harbor Homes conducts different efforts to combat homelessness, such as a shelter at Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. A big step was the acquisition of a Tisbury single-family property in 2020, known as the Tashmoo House. The Tashmoo House is a homeless men’s program that provides “life skills education” in a communal-living, six-bedroom environment. Tewhey said so far, the Tashmoo House program has been “very successful.” The New York Ave. House in Oak Bluffs will act in the same way as the Tashmoo House, except it will be a program for women. 

The residents will each have personal rooms, with a communal area and kitchen. Tewhey said that she hopes Harbor Homes will eventually be able to find housing for everyone in the future, but women who are substance abusers or who have serious mental instability will not be considered for residency at New York Ave. House.

This women’s residency program aims at creating an environment where the residents can flourish, and Tewhey does not want to add to their hardships. Tewhey said that substance abusers and the mentally ill should receive help, but New York Ave. House is not the place for it. Tashmoo House has a similar approach for the men. 

The New York Ave. House will also act as the new headquarters of Harbor Homes. “It will be a big leap for us,” said Tewhey. “We’re very excited about this. It makes Harbor Homes have a home as well.” 

When looking for a property, the goal was to find a place that could provide basic, safe, and comfortable housing. It also needed to have at least five bedrooms. New York Ave. House used to be the Martha’s Vineyard Resort, “a bed and breakfast,” before it was sold. Its location and established architecture for communal living made it a great property for Harbor Homes to acquire. Tewhey had the fortune of having an interview with the previous owners of the property, the Robinsons. They wanted the property to be an asset for the community, and readily sold it. The Robinsons will be neighbors with New York Ave. House. 

Tewhey said they intended to buy the property by April, but issues with the title delayed the purchase to July. 

Tewhey said that they were fortunate to have received the mortgage from Martha’s Vineyard Bank, donors’ general contributions, and financial support from all of the towns, except Edgartown, during the purchasing process. 

The application forms will be available online starting next week, according to Tewhey. There were 24 women who applied for residency before the property was even bought, but for fairness, the qualified applicants will be selected through lottery, since many didn’t even know New York Ave. House was happening. Tewhey will also advertise the program through the newspapers. Copies of the application form will be also available at the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority’s office. Tewhey said she doesn’t anticipate residents until at least September. 

Only adults 18 years or older will be eligible for the New York Ave. House program. The applicant’s income must be at or below 30 percent of the median family income (MFI) for Dukes County, the MFI being $104,700, according to the Dukes County Housing Authority. The applicant must be homeless, or at risk of being homeless. Individuals need to be able to contribute to the maintenance and expenses of the house, which consists of a monthly fee of $450. More information about the New York Ave. House program can be found at the Harbor Homes website



  1. More positive news on the affordable housing front, and accomplished without imposing a transfer tax on Vineyard homeowners.

  2. I have so much to say about this. People who are homeless and mentally ill or addicts can’t get help? Wow. Okay, we’ll leave that one alone for now. So I guess youre helping people who were living paycheck to paycheck and had some kind of financial emergency, like getting sick, getting their hours reduced at work, a vehicle malfunction, having their seasonal housing arrangements fall through, whatever, they were following the rules and never should have been homeless in the first place. I’m glad they’re getting help, but they should never have needed it in the first place. They need it because anyone who owns anything on the island thinks they deserve to be able to charge ridiculous rents because movie stars come here for vacation. Property owners on the Vineyard have forgotten that if you live in a community, you have a responsibility to the community. It is actually possible to own property, maintain it, charge reasonable rent based on what the property is and not where it is, and make enough money to live an awesome life. But every single one of you think Oprah is going to show up and rent your basement apartment and therefore you need to price it accordingly. If you don’t want homeless people in your neighrborhoods, charge rent that a working person can afford. I’m about to go off on a tangent about why I can’t buy six pack of underwear anywhere on the island, so I’ll end my rant. Stop catering to people who are there for at the most six to eight months out of the years and start paying attention to the people who are always there.

  3. Will this house be able and/or willing to accommodate women (with children, where applicable) who need to escape an abusive partner with whom they share a home? This doesn’t get talked about in the context of the housing crisis (which finally almost everyone seems to acknowledge *is* a crisis). Relatives and friends may take a woman (again, sometimes with children) in for short periods, but what happens when those periods stretch out longer and longer?

  4. Everything that is subsidized increases. Just ask the residents of Hyannis. It was a sleepy seaside town until the do gooders introduced these type of homes. Been downhill ever since.

Comments are closed.