The ribbon-cutting ceremony for Island Housing Trust’s (IHT) Kuehn’s Way, an affordable housing project seven years in the making, was met with jubilation on a clear, sunny, and unseasonably warm Friday afternoon. The new Tisbury neighborhood features 20 year-round apartments clustered into 10 duplexes, and is expected to be able to reach net zero energy thanks to features like roof-mounted solar panels.
IHT held a dedication last year in June to break ground for the project, which was named in honor of Bob Kuehn, an affordable housing advocate also known as the “grandfather of the CPA” for his part in bringing the Community Preservation Act to Massachusetts.
“He was a big man and a big thinker, and he’d be thrilled to see what’s happened here today at Kuehn’s Way,” Bob Green, IHT board member and Kuehn Charitable Foundation trustee, said.
IHT received a collective $1.5 million in funding from all six towns’ Community Preservation committees, with Tisbury being the biggest contributor. Abbe Burt, Tisbury affordable housing committee vice chair and Community Preservation committee member, said Tisbury should be proud of this project.
“Thank you to everyone in Tisbury who continues to contribute, and ‘Go housing!’” she said.
Mark Teden, vice president of MassHousing’s multifamily programs, expressed how rare the level of support the towns gave for Kuehn’s Way was, compared with the rest of the state.
“We never see municipalities contributing … fully 15 percent of development costs in a single development, which is remarkable,” Teden said. MassHousing and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development are investing a total of $4.2 million in funding, with $2 million in permanent financing, for Kuehn’s Way.
IHT Executive Director Philippe Jordi said this “momentous day” in early November follows “nothing but an epic journey.”
“My wife, Randi, and I just got back from Greece, where we visited museums and ancient sites, and I was reflecting on how this has been an odyssey in itself, of challenges as well as triumphs,” he said.
The 15-acre property was purchased in 2015 in partnership with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, which purchased conservation restrictions to permanently protect nine acres on the north side of the Red Coat Hill Road ancient way. This was the largest among their partnerships.
“The Land Bank believes every neighborhood everywhere deserves some open space,” Land Bank Tisbury commissioner Nancy Weaver said. “We hope that Kuehn’s Way residents will enjoy the many looping trails in the area, and we look forward to many future collaborations, and IHT and the Land Bank are always looking to the future.”
In 2016, IHT spent three years defending the permits it received from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Tisbury zoning board of appeals in Massachusetts’ land court and appeals court. They were successful with pro bono legal support from the Boston-based law firm Nixon Peabody.
“Ruth Silman … mounted a brilliant legal defense for us. Ruth unfortunately died of cancer,” Jordi said. “Her life was cut short, but she is certainly here with us in spirit. There’s no doubt.”
The troubles weren’t over as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, increasing costs, reducing the workforce, and hindering the supply chain in 2020. “That was our next challenge,” Jordi said.
Despite the challenges, Jordi expressed with pride how IHT overcame hurdles with the people and firms it worked with, like working with CapeBuilt to manage cost increases and utilizing Islander John Smith’s KleanTu denitrification septic system. Additionally, funding from private donors also paved the way for the project.
Jordi said IHT is the leading nonprofit developer on the Island, and is facing a challenge on Martha’s Vineyard that is “getting worse and worse.”
“I think a good illustration of that is just over the past 10 years, pretty much the time that it took to build this place, we’ve lost 600 year-round homes that have been sold to seasonal residents as well as investment property owners for short-term rentals,” Jordi said. “That kind of shows what we’re up against.”
Kuehn’s Way is the largest affordable housing neighborhood Martha’s Vineyard has seen in almost 15 years, according to Jordi.
“For the nearly 50 residents who are going to be living here and calling this their home, it really couldn’t have come any sooner,” Jordi said.
Many of the speakers expressed gratitude for everyone who played a role in making Kuehn’s Way possible, including IHT staff, town officials, donors, and community members.
Doug Ruskin, IHT board chair, had this message: “We’re not going anywhere. This project is one of many we’ve done to date, and many more to come.”
After Burt cut the ribbon, those in attendance toured the interior of some of the units. “Welcome home!” Jordi exclaimed.