The Island Affordable Housing Fund raised more than $1 million this weekend with its Housing on the Tube telethon, breaking all Vineyard records for money banked from a single event.
Volunteers has expected to greet each other with hugs and tears Sunday night as the three-day fundraiser drew to a close. They did not expect to find they had tallied nearly double the goal the fund had set: $1,037,800.
“We are just humbled with this number,” fund executive director Patrick Manning said Monday. “It was not expected. We are just smiling ear to ear because this money literally translates into safe, decent houses hard-working Islanders can afford.”
Formed in 1998, the fund provides grants and loans to organizations, towns, developers and builders working to create affordable year-round housing opportunities on-Island. For the past eight summers, the group has hosted Houses on the Move, an annual dinner party fundraising event. Last year, the board decided to shake things up and began a weekend-long telethon in addition to the party. The results were surprisingly successful: 300 donors participated and $526,000 was raised. Contributions came in large and small, from very young Island residents who opened up their piggy banks to older summer visitors.
So this year, the board set the bar higher with a goal of $550,000. They had the help of four underwriters: Plum TV, Comcast, Colonial Reproductions of Edgartown and Cronig’s Market. “They gave the money we needed to put this on so we didn’t start with a deficit for advertising or to rent the agricultural hall. They gave so that the first dollar went to putting someone in an affordable house,” Mr. Manning said.
The event kicked off at 9 a.m. Friday morning at the West Tisbury agricultural hall, the site for the phone drive and also a Saturday evening gala. Plum TV cameras started rolling as the first calls came in. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the crew filmed live between 9 and 11 a.m. and from 4 to 8 p.m.
On Friday morning, Island realtors volunteered to man the phones. “It was the real estate professionals giving back,” said fund co-president Candace daRosa, herself a realtor. “We raised about $20,000 in the first two hours and thought, this is a really, really good start.”
During the afternoon break, the calls continued to come in. The goal for the first day had been $150,000. By 9 p.m., the group had raised around $200,000. “We said, you know, this is going better than we were planning for day one,” Mr. Manning said.
On Saturday, the phones continued to ring and more than 300 people turned out for the party, which featured food from V. Jaime Hamlin and Sons and live music from Cape Cod Smitty, Jerry Bennett and the Sultans of Swing and Jim Belushi. Special guests Tripp Barnes, Tina Miller, Marty Nadler, Sissy Biggers and a tearful Karen Altieri, a recent recipient of a house in the Edgartown Jenney Way development, all took to the microphone to thank attendees and applaud the work of the fund. Tickets to the event cost $500.
That evening, with the numbers from ticket sales in, the group broke the $300,000 mark. But the big push was still to come. “Sunday had been a huge day last year. A whole new gang of [volunteers] came in with their phone lists, their own personal address books, and were calling out. We knew those people were going to come again this year,” Mrs. daRosa said.
“By Sunday morning, we were up to $320,000 and we saw the phones were ringing off the hook,” said Mr. Manning. He did the math and announced a new goal: $610,000. “It was obvious it was getting out around the Island, what was going on. There was a sense of excitement and people wanted to be a part of it,” Mr. Manning said.
When the cameras began rolling to tape the final segment at 4 p.m., the amount raised had reached $550,000. “Right off the bat I said, the goal is off the table. We’re going to try to make history here,” said Mr. Manning. Previously the record for the most money netted in a summer fundraising event was $880,000 raised by the Possible Dreams Auction.
At 7:40 p.m., twenty minutes before the telethon ended, a donor present at the phone drive pulled aside Mr. Manning and Bob Wheeler, co-president of the trust. “He said, ‘We need to talk. I feel like the community is responding and I need to do that in kind,’” Mr. Manning said. The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous and has given to the fund before, announced he was writing a check for $350,000. The donation pushed the amount raised to one million dollars.
“We were pretty shocked. We were pretty shocked by the whole thing,” said Mr. Manning. He announced the decision with 15 minutes left in the drive. Plum TV said they would pull all their advertising and continue filming uninterrupted. And then, to the surprise of all gathered, the phones got busier.
“First there was a $5,000 anonymous donation. Then a $2,500 donation. Then a $10,000 donation from someone who was one of the original givers to the fund, Kitty Burke,” Mr. Manning said. Then, Wyc and Corinne Grousbeck, the owners of the Boston Celtics who already had donated $20,000 to the event, and Norman and Margaret Rankow, whose Colonial Reproductions helped underwrite the weekend, phoned to donate courtside Celtics tickets to the next giver. With two minutes left on the clock, Island architect Patrick Ahearn called in. “He said, ‘Here’s $5,000. I want those tickets,’” Mr. Manning said.
“We are just humbled by it,” Mr. Manning said again. “We worked hard and we really tried to make our case. The one thing that we collectively agreed last night was there was this doom and gloom attitude out there. The economy is slow and there are a whole other host of reasons why this might not be a good year. And then this. We are excited not just for ourselves, but for the other Island nonprofits that will be going through these for the rest of August. We will be there with our support, our volunteer support. We want them to have a banner year as well.”
The event’s success does not mean the work of the fund will stop. “Now we have to get back to reality. We have about 75 units literally on the drawing board and when I say we, I’m talking about the entire housing community, not just us. Bridge Commons, Habitat for Humanity, the [Island Affordable Housing] Trust. Tisbury has, I think, six or seven projects on the drawing board and the town of Chilmark. And we are here to support those groups. So when I say we, it’s a big we,” Mrs. daRosa said. “We have to raise something to the tune of five million to subsidize these projects. So yes, we raised a million dollars this weekend, but we have four million to go.”
She continued: “The baseline, lowest subsidized rent here is $1,000 a month for a studio or one-bedroom. That same place off-Island in a community with similar income levels as we have is $700. And when you look at multiple bedrooms, the distance is greater. People who are living and working and struggling to get along here can’t, realistically, make enough to plop down $200,000 to make a mortgage manageable and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not a hand out. No one is getting something for nothing.”
Mr. Wheeler said the success of the event could not be more timely. In the next few days, the state House of Representatives will take up a bill to establish a housing bank on the Island. The bill would impose a one per cent tax on the sales of property in excess of $750,000 to go towards affordable housing. If the house votes yes, the issue will go before Island voters. “If they have supported it financially, they will support it with their votes as well,” Mr. Wheeler said.
According to the people at the fund, this weekend’s event marks a shift in how the Island community views affordable housing. “What I see is sort of an awakening in the community,” Mrs. daRosa said. Mr. Manning agreed. “Affordable housing has come of age. We spent a decade educating the public that yes, there is a crisis, but Island Affordable can deal with this and Martha’s Vineyard can stay the community we love,” he said. “What we’re seeing is the fruit of 10 years of education.”