How bad is the Island’s housing crisis? Island Housing Trust, the Island’s leading developer of affordable housing, has put out a plea to its supporters for staff housing.
“We’ve been working very hard for more than a decade to provide safe, secure, and dignified year-round housing for our community. But, as is true for so many Island businesses and nonprofits, our own employees cannot find an affordable place to live,” an email blast signed by Breeze Hodson Tonnesen, IHT’s communications and operations director, states. “We are exploring several creative ways to help our employees with their housing needs, and are reaching out to our supporters. If you have a property that you would be interested in renting year-round to IHT, we would like to talk to you about working together to create a rental opportunity for our staff.”
The emails were sent on Tuesday.
Philippe Jordi, executive director of IHT, told The Times the nonprofit has one staff member in a short-term rental who is in need of housing, and others who commute to the Island from as far away as Boston. For any of the affordable housing projects IHT has worked on using local and state funds, their employees would have to enter the lottery like anyone else, he said.
“It’s a situation where we’re having a hard time finding people who live here and have stable housing and have the skills we’re looking for,” Jordi said.
Beyond Tuesday’s plea, Jordi said IHT is looking at the possibility of doing its own project for employee housing that wouldn’t use any public funds.
Jordi said IHT is currently working with the Vineyard Transit Authority on a potential project in Edgartown. IHT would renovate the existing house into a duplex and retain ownership of the land, with the VTA renting the apartments to employees.
“Businesses are having to become landlords, because reality is they have to have housing for staff,” Jordi said.
IHT is just the latest Island business to put out a plea for housing for staff.
Recently, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has advertised for housing and, in a conversation with The Times, hospital CEO Denise Schepici revealed that nearly one-quarter of the hospital’s 400 staff positions remain unfilled. She said the single biggest issue for job candidates, even doctors, is the Island’s lack of housing, and the high price of the housing that does exist.
Restaurants and other tourism-related businesses routinely put out requests for staff housing, and sometimes buy real estate to provide rooms.
All of this comes as the Island towns are about to vote on a proposal brought forward by the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank. Upcoming town meetings will vote on articles that would seek a home-rule petition to create an Island housing bank. The issue is also on town election ballots.
As currently drafted, the housing bank proposal seeks a completely new revenue stream through a 2 percent real estate transfer fee, similar to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. However, unlike the Land Bank, the first $1 million of a sale price wouldn’t be subject to the 2 percent fee. The housing bank would consist of seven elected commissioners, each representing one of the Vineyard’s six towns, plus one commissioner at large. The legislation also calls for a town advisory board for each town. This is the Island’s third attempt at a housing bank.
Laura Silber, coordinator for the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank, said she saw the email from Island Housing Trust: “If this isn’t a clear indication of the housing crisis, I don’t know what is.”