BRHT looks to Martha’s Vineyard’s housing model

Tue, 05/04/2021 - 1:45am

    The recently established Boothbay Region Housing Trust (BRHT) is taking inspiration from Island Housing Trust on Martha’s Vineyard (IHTMV) to begin producing homes and rentals for the region’s workforce.

    “They're talking about an island and we're talking about a peninsula, they're talking about commuters coming over on the ferry,” said BRHT’s Cindi Watson. “But we're talking about the 4,000 cars that are commuting into Boothbay every day and leave.”

    BRHT is focusing on granular workforce housing – one piece of a trinity of housing problems plaguing the peninsula. Not the other two – subsidized or senior housing, said BRHT’s Debrah Yale. Though each issue’s problems are about the same – high cost, low inventory and high demand – the Boothbay Region, like Martha’s Vineyard, can find a way for workers, teachers and other professionals to live here, said Yale and Watson.

    “We're kind of using that as a model,” Yale said. “Bring awareness to the peninsula that there is no place for anybody to live.”

    IHTMV Executive Director Philippe Jordi has been working on the island’s housing needs for 25 years and over the past 15 has overseen nearly 130 sold homes and rents geared toward the workforce. Most recently, IHTMV has been using documentary-style films to illustrate Martha's Vineyard’s housing needs and continues to chronicle the program’s successes as it plans to produce another 22 rentals in the next couple years.

    Jordi said the impetus for pursuing housing happened several ways over the past 20 or so years. Each of the six towns on Martha's Vineyard has a housing committee and, since the early 2000s, a number of entities have identified with sub-genres of housing like elderly and affordable housing.

    Addressing things like zoning by-laws is helpful in expediency for permits for high density housing, but no one is working on those issues on a day-to-day basis, said Jordi. “Our problem is that we … duplicate everything six times from police chiefs to accountants to town managers. The list goes on. So, (the towns) really have no capacity for implementing these kinds of plans which really fall on the nonprofits and housing authority to do most of, if not all, that work.”

    Martha’s Vineyard Commission, an island-wide planning agency, has completed various housing needs assessments over the years, said Jordi. “More recently, they did what they call the housing production plan which is essentially something all towns should have – to meet (a) requirement of 10% of the year-round housing stock as affordable.”

    Large benefactors have helped expand the housing stock, but grassroots fundraising and local public sources of funding, including state funding for rentals, was the important piece, said Jordi. “It takes a long time if you don't have a lot of support. If you're relying on donors and donations as your business plan, it's a tough one. You're not just going to have an organization that can take on a lot without a lot of time typically to build that.”

    Jordi said the benefit of being a resort community is IHTMV members have the experience of raising philanthropic funds whereas many communities in Massachusetts do not. That experience has led to a fundraising opportunity through the Commonwealth’s Community Investment Tax Credit (CITC) program which helps Community Development Corporations partner with nonprofits and public and private organizations. Jordi said the program all boils down to getting 50 cents from the commonwealth for every dollar donated to IHTMV. “So, that tax credit results in a doubling of revenues coming to the organization … This was a big thing, it's been in place for five years, now, and it's helped us grow.”

    Yale and Watson said the towns have lacked in their effort to address housing for the past 35 years and have only recently started addressing economic development. “But no one wants to move their business here because there's no place for people to live,” said Watson.

    “So, we know what the need is, Yale said. “We also know where there's land and that land is expensive … But when it comes to not having to reinvent the wheel? We have Martha’s Vineyard as a resource.”

    Jordi recommends securing suitable land as soon as possible, repurposing older homes and building new ones. Partnering with organizations, specifically towns, is important, as is pursuing short term loans or bridge loans to quickly buy properties so the towns are not the main source of property, which may not be suitable. “We are also looking to kind of standardize and replicate our new construction designs so that we can draw on something we already know, that we have greater certainty in terms of costs.”

    And most importantly, said Jordi, “We continue to march on and find new opportunities.”