The United Nations has designated the first Monday in October of each year as World Habitat Day. This is a day to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right to adequate shelter for all. It is also intended to remind all of us of our collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.
Each year, more than three million people experience homelessness. Millions of low-income American households have to pay more than 50 per cent of their income for rent when estimates say the figure should be no more than 30 per cent.
A missed paycheck, a health emergency, or an unpaid bill creates a crisis, pushing neighbors and friends out of their homes and into homelessness. Beginning in the early 1980s, the number of homeless Americans grew dramatically. The face of homelessness isdiverse. It includes mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and racial and ethnic minorities.
While the global observance of this year’s World Habitat Day will be led from the Angolan capital, Luanda, our local celebration can be witnessed at 11th street in Edgartown where Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard is building a two-bedroom home.
We often view the Vineyard as a unique community because of our isolation from the rest of the world. In reality we face the same issues that play out on national and international stages. While energy costs and the state of the economy are rapidly moving up on our list of concerns, most Vineyarders know from personal experience that the ability to purchase a decent, affordable home has been the number one factor in destabilizing our community for the past two decades. The factors that induce homelessness in the rest of America are compounded on our Island because of the double-edged sword that is part and parcel of a real estate market in a seasonal, resort community.
Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard is a small organization with an army of volunteers that has built five homes, is in the process of building a sixth, and has other projects waiting in the wings. While there are many Island organizations doing great work toward eliminating substandard and unaffordable housing, Habitat for Humanity is unique: our homes are built by volunteers and the mortgage is held by Habitat, not a conventional bank. With the spotlight on the issue of housing for World Habitat Day, we would like to take this opportunity to tell you about our work and organization:
• Habitat serves the single neediest population in search of an affordable, year-round home on Martha’s Vineyard. Habitat families do not qualify for traditional home loans because they are members of our lowest tier of median income on the Island. Habitat homeowners on the Vineyard earn between $16,500 and $44,050 or the income for a family of four is between $23,600 and $62,900 annually.
• Habitat does not receive funding from our international organization or from local affordable housing organizations. We are completely self-funded through private donations of money, time, land and building supplies.
• Habitat families will not be caught up in the current mortgage crisis because we are the bank. The Habitat model is to build homes with volunteers and donated funds so that we can provide a 20-year, no interest, no profit mortgage for the cost of the home only. Our mortgages do not include accrued interest which, over time, typically doubles the cost of a home.
Here are some other little known facts about the homes and families of Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard:
• Upon completion of our current building project the total number of people in Habitat homes is 19 — soon to be 20!
• There were 40 qualified applicants vying for the last home.
• The occupations of our families include a bookkeeper, administrative assistant, real estate manager, small business owner, musician, teacher, landscaper, and woodworker — professions that keep the Vineyard alive, professions that we cannot afford to lose.
• A typical Habitat home is usually 1,100 square feet, requires 20,000 nails, 650 pieces of lumber and 80 volunteers to build.
We believe that the lack of affordable housing on the Vineyard can be addressed and we are committed to participating in the solution — one house at a time. There is much work to be done and we welcome anyone who would like to join our ranks to help care for the human habitat.
Ron DiOrio is president of Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard. He lives in Oak Bluffs where he also is an Oak Bluffs selectman.