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Profiles – Affordable Housing for an Island Community

Sepiessa II/Village Court. Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Introduction: Affordable Housing for an Island Community

Resident Jonathan Shaw and his daughter.On Martha's Vineyard, residents have a name for what happens when the summer months arrive and people living in affordable housing are forced to move to another rental apartment.

"We have here what is called the island shuffle, where residents literally have to move out of their winter rental, somehow find a summer rental, then return to their winter rental when the season is over," says Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust Corporation, a community development corporation and community land trust based in Vineyard Haven. "The typical lease on the island is for nine months or less, not one year, which causes a lot of instability, especially for families with children, who are displaced twice, if not more, a year."

In this AHP multimedia profile, see how two recent AHP-funded affordable rental initiatives — Sepiessa I, which received a $160,000 grant, and Village Court, which received a $291,436 grant — are making more year-round affordable housing available to island residents.

In the photo: Brandie Lewis and Tucker Smith with their daughter Annie in their Village Court apartment.

The Developer

Philippe Jordi is executive director of Island Housing Trust Corporation in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts.

Maliseet house under renovation.

View of Sepiessa II

Sepiessa II
In the 1990s, Duke's County Regional Housing Authority and the Nature Conservancy jointly purchased property on the shores of the Great Tisbury Pond in West Tisbury. This joint purchase of land in which conservation interests and affordable-housing interests align is sometimes referred to as conservation-based affordable housing.

The housing authority's community development corporation constructed four rental apartments on that site (Sepiessa I).

More recently, the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank purchased a large area of land while the Duke's County Regional Housing Authority purchased a small portion of land close to the site of those four apartments. Island Housing Trust Corporation, a nonprofit community development corporation and community land trust, ground-leased half of the housing authority's three-acre site and used it to build the Sapiessa II Apartments, which are managed by the housing authority.

Maliseet house under renovation.

Gabriel, Joalser, and Emanuelly Nascimento at their Sepiessa home

Because this housing is close to the Great Tisbury Pond, we upgraded the septic system from Title Five to an enhanced septic system to reduce the nitrogen level. We installed the upgraded system for the three new apartments as well as the four existing ones.

The architectural firm that designed the first four apartments also designed Sepiessa II. Building science has evolved since the first apartments were built in the 1990s, so we were able to create more energy-efficient buildings. Instead of five or six inches of insulation in the walls we were able to do nine inches. We were also able to do triple-glazed windows as opposed to double glazed ones.

Our heating and cooling systems use an air-source heat pump system, which is about 150 to 200 percent more energy efficient than a standard electric heating system. We are able to reduce the energy usage of each apartment drastically so that people can spend as little as $50 a month, compared to $250 or $300, on their utility bills. This makes a big difference for out tenants.

We built these apartments — a one-bedroom, a two-bedroom, and a three-bedroom — to be truly affordable. It's a big concept that we have invested in. The additional investment we make to build these high-performance apartments pays off in 10 to 15 years.

The grant we received from FHLB Boston enabled us to lower the rents from 75 percent of area median income to 50 and 60 percent of AMI. The resident for the one-bedroom apartment earns no more than $30,000, for the two-bedroom no more than $35,000, and for the three bedroom no more than $47,000.

Village Court
In February 2014, we were able to purchase a six-unit apartment building for $600,000. The building had five two-bedroom and one, one-bedroom apartments.

We purchased the building from the person who developed the apartments in the early 1970s. He also built three other buildings nearby, which he sold over the years to the Dukes County Housing Authority. We saw purchasing the building as a great opportunity to complete this neighborhood of multifamily units.

We replaced the roof, added an additional two inches of insulation, replaced the windows, and re-sheeted and re-sided the building. We added new sheetrock, floors, kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, hot water heaters, and heating and cooling systems (heat pumps).

We purchased the building in February and finished the work in December. We did the bulk of the renovation within a 90-day period.

Housing Authority Director Aaron Greenlaw.

Village Court

With both of these projects we received a considerable amount of local funding, including Community Preservation Act funds, which are raised in each of the towns through a three percent surcharge on property taxes. This funding is awarded for housing, open space, and historic preservation. In the case of Sapiessa, we received $562,000 in funding.

For Village Court we also received $295,000 in grants from four different island towns. This was an impressive feat because it was the first time we've seen towns help fund a project like this in another town. Some large donors here on the island also made significant contributions to the project.

The $290,000 grant from FHLB Boston enabled us to make these apartments affordable to low- and very low-income residents. With these apartments we're really hitting the demographic that has the greatest need here on the island.

Resident Jonathan Shaw and his daughter at home.

Resident Joalser Nascimento with Philippe Jordi and Sophie Abrams of
Island Housing Trust at Sepiessa II

Affordable Housing on the Island

Philippe Jordi is executive director of Island Housing Trust Corporation in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts.

On Martha's Vineyard, we have a housing market driven by investment properties and second homes. As I often say to people, housing costs here don't relate to what people earn on the island; they relate to what people earn off the island. People living in cities and other places have the means to pay a lot more for a property here, so we're competing with a national and international market.

We're also faced with a scarcity of land. Nearly 40 percent of the island has been preserved and 30 percent has been developed, so only about 30 percent is in play, and that portion could either be protected or developed. This scarcity of land really makes the land and housing costs extremely expensive here.

We also have three-acre zoning in most towns. So unlike many places in Massachusetts, we have a very limited amount of multifamily housing, which is typically where people in Massachusetts find rents that are affordable. We really have a preponderance of single-family houses here, which becomes a big challenge for entry-level workers, teachers, nurses, and people working in retail stores.

The Maliseet health center.

Emanuelly, Gabriel, and Joalser Nascimento in their Sepiessa home

Martha's Vineyard is a 100-square-mile island composed of six towns. This creates a wonderful kind of diversity within our island community. People take real pride in the uniqueness of their town. But it also makes it really difficult as a regional organization to work island-wide on issues that impact every town. The lack of island-wide leadership makes it very difficult to make changes and have a collective impact on large issues like housing, water quality, or even solid waste and recycling.

But in the past we showed we could do it. We did it 30 years ago with the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank and we have a regional high school and hospital. So for critical issues we have been able to work together and come up with solutions that go beyond the concerns of a single town to address island-wide issues. This is our challenge as an organization and a community.

View of Maliseet Riverside Village.

View of Sepiessa II

Our challenge now is to double what we are doing on an annual basis — go from 75 units to 180 units of housing by 2020. To do this we need to partner with volunteers, the business community, and other nonprofit organizations on and off the island. We have been working very closely with the towns to identify town-owned land or other land or existing multifamily housing that can be purchased and added to the affordable housing pool.

Video Tour

Take a video tour of Sepiessa II and Village Court with Philippe Jordi, executive director of Island Housing Trust.

The Numbers: Sepiessa II

FHLB Boston AHP Direct Subsidy $160,000
Other Permanent Member Funding 160,000
West Tisbury Community Preservation Act Funding 562,000
Dukes County Regional Housing Authority 30,000
Dukes County Community Development Corporation 27,700
Island Housing Trust 9,000
Total Sources $948,700


Acquisition $15,000
Construction Contingency 40,000
Financing Fees 10,000
Legal Fees 15,500
Developer Fees 45,000
Developer Overhead 15,500
Other Soft Costs 30,785
Construction/Rehab 653,940
Builder OH/Profit/General Requirements 122,975
Total Uses $948,700

The Numbers: Village Court

FHLB Boston AHP Direct Subsidy $291,436
Other Permanent Member Funding 295,000
Cape Light Compact (CLC) 28,567
The Resources Inc. (TRI) 200,000
Town of Tisbury - CPA 100,000
Town of West Tisbury - CPA 65,000

Town of Chilmark - CPA

Town of Edgartown - CPA 65,000
Low-Income Energy Affordability Network 69,000
Island Housing Trust 43,000
Total Sources $1,313,003


Acquisition $600,000
Construction/Rehab 475,799
Construction Contingency 40,000
Developer Fees 30,000
Developer Overhead 13,000
Financing Fees 33,000
Legal Fees 15,500
Other Soft Costs 52,838
Builder OH/Profit/General Requirements 52,866
Total Uses $1,313,003

The Residents

Philippe Jordi is executive director of Island Housing Trust Corporation in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts.

Our residents work in the trades, in various services, or for a large employer such as the hospital. At Village Court we have a special education teacher who works at the town elementary school; a custodian who works at the hospital; an office manager for a moving company; a landscaper; an office assistant, and a builder. These workers aren't making a tremendous amount of money and certainly cannot afford to rent or purchase a house on the open market.

The affordability gap is tremendous on the island. The average price for a house is more than $600,000, while most people can afford at most a $200,000 to $250,000 mortgage, depending on their family size. The gap is enormous. The rents here are approximately 30 percent more on average than anywhere in the United States.

Approximately 16,000 to 17,000 people live on Martha's Vineyard year-round. That number increases quite a bit during the summer months. There are as many homes on the island as there are year round residents. Approximately 55 percent of all homes on the island are seasonal or investment homes. These are homes that people live in for either a portion of the summer or rent out by the week.

We have here what is called the island shuffle, when residents literally have to move out of their winter rental, somehow find a summer rental, then return to their winter rental when the season is over. The typical lease on the island is for nine months or less, not one year, which causes a lot of instability, especially for families with children, who are displaced twice, if not more, a year. We have been very successful at land conservation.

In the past we have created a public entity that is able to raise quite a lot of money through a real estate transfer tax, and with those millions of dollars annually we are able to buy land to preserve it. Our challenge right now is to do the same thing with people preservation — to try to retain the vibrancy of the community and all of its small businesses. These are the people who make this community work on a year-round basis. We want them to be able to live here.

Our effort is to create both homeownership and rental opportunities. And rental opportunities, especially at the low- and very low-income level, are the most critical. We found that out in a recent housing review assessment. This is where our focus has been of late.

Visit the residents of Sepiessa II and Village Court

The Member

Fielding Moore, president and chief executive officer of member Edgartown National Bank, says housing is a critical issue for the island's workforce and businesses. "It's a real problem for us and a lot of the businesses on the island who are trying to find employees," he says. "The cost of living here is so high it's difficult for us to hire people for entry-level positions because there's no affordable housing for them here on the island. It's an issue that affects all small businesses in one way or the other."

In recent years, Edgartown National Bank has successfully applied for two Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Affordable Housing Program grants — Speiessa II and Village Court — to support multifamily housing on behalf of sponsor Island Housing Trust Corporation. Mr. Moore says Edgartown National's partnership with FHLB Boston is an essential ingredient of its housing strategy for the island. "We really appreciate the relationship we have with the Bank and being able to take advantage of the AHP," Mr. Moore says.

View of Maliseet Riverside Village.

From the left, Judy Soules and Paul Watts of Edgartown National Bank;
Elisa Rindini and Maria Nichols of the Federal Home Loan bank of Boston;
and Fielding Moore of Edgartown National Bank