State of Island housing

The Island would need to introduce around 400 units to meet the state's minimum suggested threshold of year-round affordable housing stock. -MV Times

There are some 300 qualified applicants on Martha’s Vineyard waiting for affordable rental units; over 600 units of housing has fallen from the Island’s housing market over the last decade, while 1,400 new seasonal houses have been gained; nearly half of the housing stock on Martha’s Vineyard is vacant year-round: These are some of the key takeaways the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has reported while compiling data to better understand the breadth of the Island’s housing situation.

At the first meeting of the MVC’s Housing Action Task Force last week, the commission’s housing planner, Laura Silber, offered a snapshot of the Island’s current housing stock and how it relates to the incomes of many year-round residents. 

One of the takeaways from that meeting was the need for affordable housing initiatives to be able to serve a wider range of residents with differing annual incomes. 

According to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a family of four on Martha’s Vineyard with 100 percent AMI (area median income) brings in around $107,400 per year in gross income.

But that number is not the same in every town. 

For example, the median household income in West Tisbury is just shy of $120,000, over double that of Tisbury, where the median income is the lowest on-Island, at $56,000.

“When we’re making decisions across the Island, we need to be mindful about the different needs of the towns,” Silber said. 

Part of that would be working to expand the range of housing assistance available, considering the Islands’ year-round economic diversity. 

The state deems housing available for those earning 80 percent or below the AMI as affordable. So a Vineyard family of four making up to $94,600 annually would be qualified for affordable housing.

The issue is different entities have different limits and restrictions on that percentage cap. 

“Most of the state funding is limited to serving up to 80 percent of AMI,” Silber said. 

Through the towns’ Community Preservation Act funds, which provide the bulk of affordable housing money, affordable housing is restricted to up to 100 percent of AMI. 

The county’s municipal housing trust can serve up to 150 percent AMI, but the trust itself lacks funds. 

Two people with 150 percent AMI bring in $128,900, but still are unable to afford the Vineyard’s skyrocketing home prices, Silber explained. And “that’s easily a municipal worker and a healthcare worker.”

“Our trusts don’t have enough funding to increase the service range as robustly as we need them to,” Silber said. 

Both Nantucket and Provincetown, which are now regularly compared with the Vineyard when it comes to the affordable housing crisis of a resort community, have recently increased that limit to 200 AMI. Nantucket will be increasing that cap to 240 percent of area median income.

Since 2000, the Island’s year-round population has increased by nearly 40 percent. Meanwhile, the average home price doubled in just the past decade, from around $1 million in 2012 to over $2 million in 2022. 

Over the past two decades, the Island has lost 600 year-round units in the housing stock to the seasonal or short-term rental market. During that time, 1,400 seasonal units were gained. 

A healthy vacancy rate for rental inventory is 7 percent, Silber said. The state’s vacancy rate is just over half that. The Island is far behind at 1.9 percent. “It’s clearly not a healthy rental market,” Silber said.

Further, the state expects 10 percent of a community’s housing stock to be within the subsidized housing inventory (SHI), which are deed-restricted units for those earning up to 80 percent of AMI. 

This excludes a large portion of Islanders who exceed that income, but are still in desperate need of attainable housing.

“Those folks are shut out of the market,” Silber said. “They cannot afford a one-point-something million-dollar home. And there is essentially no rental inventory that’s not deed-restricted.”

That becomes problematic when considering the significant waitlist for deed-restricted rentals. 

Currently, there are more than 300 qualified applicants waitlisted for affordable rental units, according to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority’s 2023 assessment. Over 500 are on the waiting list for home ownership opportunities. 

The demand for those units “far outstrips the supply,” Silber said.

According to the most recent stats available, roughly 400 more year-round housing units would need to become available in order to meet that percentage. 

Nearly half (49 percent) of Island housing units are vacant for parts of the year. 

Last week Silber also noted the issue of the county’s housing affordability gap, which is the difference between the median single-family home price ($1.2 million) and what a median-earning family can realistically afford ($451,500). 

The housing affordability gap for Dukes County is $844,000.

This is based on the assumption that that household spends 30 percent of its annual income on housing costs.

But according to the MVC’s findings, around 40 percent of households on the Island are considered to be “cost-burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

The Island’s housing affordability gap is “extraordinarily high” compared with other communities, Silber said. This leads to Vineyarders having to subsidize other living expenses in order to pay housing costs.

For example, the Island is seeing a “dramatic escalation in the folks accessing the Islands’ Food Pantry,” Silber said. “And a lot of those people are fully employed.”


  1. How did they determine that we have lost 600 year round rentals and gained 1400 new seasonal rentals?

  2. Why does the county’s municipal housing trust have no funds? Can they receive funds from IHT, perhaps, who might think to lower the salaries of their officers in service to providing the help to the community that they are charged to help? IHT does amazing work and seems to be the only organization that has stepped up to build the affordable housing communities that exist, but there seems to be a lot of money spent on PR and slick production which could be better used elsewhere. Can the county municipal housing trust put on fund drives as IHT does or is that not allowed as they are a county entity? What can be done to shore up their resources so that more people in the 150 percent of AMI category can be helped? And what of programs that offer incentives to people to rent out their properties (i.e. guest houses) year-round? Do those exist? Do people know about them? So many questions, I know. But we can all chip in and help our community if we know how to help.

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