O.B. plans veteran housing project

Affordable housing committee is eyeing a 4.6-acre town-owned lot.

The Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee is looking at a potential veterans housing project at a town-owned parcel off County Road.

Affordable housing for military veterans may be coming to Oak Bluffs.

At an August 10 meeting, chair of the Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee Mark Leonard informed the select board the Island’s veteran outreach group had contacted fellow committee member Jim Bishop about a veterans’ affordable housing project.

“Over the last four months we’ve been doing our due diligence and asking the who, what, when, where, why, and we’re finally at a point where we can come to the select board and get your recommendation, approvals, or suggestions,” Leonard said.

To start, the committee did a study of the Island’s veteran demographics. There are an estimated 950 veterans living on the Island, of whom 70 percent are over the age of 64. Additionally, 38 percent of the veteran population is disabled.

The committee is focusing its housing on veterans who need services and don’t have stable housing. There are 14 individuals who would fit that category, according to Leonard.

The committee is eyeing a 4.6-acre town-owned parcel on 519 County Road, and is proposing 10 to 12 units commingled in two houses. The lot has been suggested as a potential site for affordable housing.

“One of the things we were sensitive to is that the housing fits into the neighborhood and doesn’t stick out,” Leonard said. “In the buildings, there will also be a resource center that would have computers, internet, space for individual counseling if needed.”

Leonard added that the veterans group would not necessarily need the entire lot, and said the committee was proposing 2 to 2.6 acres for the project, with five to six units on one acre and five to six units on another acre separated by one acre of space. “So it really fits into the neighborhood, being spread out, limits traffic,” he said.

The committee is proposing a 99-year lease and deed restrictions for affordable housing. “This site makes sense because it’s close to bus transportation, it’s close to [Martha’s Vineyard Community Services], where there’s the veterans affairs and counseling services,” he said.

Tenants would also have to be alcohol- and drug-free. Leonard said there are also ways to target Island veterans by requiring employment and income verification on Martha’s Vineyard.

“What this affordable housing looks at are those veterans who don’t have stable housing, who need supporting services. Services are anything such as veterans services, state services, local services, and even nonprofits,” Leonard said. “[They] really need affordable housing to stay here on-Island, and need those supporting services to reintegrate back into the community.”

There are two successful veteran housing models on the Cape that the committee is studying. Last year, the Dennis select board approved a 99-year, $1 lease for town-owned property with the Cape and Islands Veterans Outreach Center. The property will house five veterans.

In Hyannis, the Outreach Center rents a 10-bedroom home to veterans. Housing is provided to individuals earning 30 to 80 percent of area median income (AMI). 

The committee is working on a draft RFP, and would search for an organization to build, manage, and establish veterans’ services. The next step is for the committee to put an article on the fall town meeting warrant for voter approval.

The select board praised the project, but didn’t take any formal action. Select board member Brian Packish said he supported the project, but wanted to see more information provided on how a veteran housing project could be implemented if an organization or entity did not respond to an RFP.

Select board member Jason Balboni similarly said the project was “well-deserved,” but also wanted a little more information. Board members Gail Barmakian and Emma Green-Beach concurred. Board member Ryan Ruley left the meeting early.

“Veterans are an important demographic here on the Island, and a lot of them have served our country and asked to do things a lot of people should never have to do,” Leonard said. “These veterans come back, they have a hard time fitting into the community.”