He is a family man, father of three, physically fit with a passion for cycling, and a bit of history buff. And now T. Ewell Hopkins, who has been commuting from his year-round home in Oak Bluffs to work in mainland metropolises for the past 10 years, is happy to have more time at home on the Vineyard to be near his family, read and ride his bike on weekends.
But during the workweek he is occupied with a new job and a cause: raising money and promoting development of affordable housing on the Vineyard.
Mr. Hopkins took over as executive director of the Island Affordable Housing Fund on Oct. 4.
Last week, three days into the job, he took some time to talk about his goals for the 10-year-old nonprofit fund.
While he does not pretend to have all the answers and says that he is still getting up to speed on the inner workings of the fund, his grasp of the mission is firm. He sketches the problem that is familiar to all who live here: low median income set against high housing costs driven up by the demands of a relatively affluent seasonal market. “We have a significant gap . . . we are talking about working-class people who anywhere else in the commonwealth would qualify for home ownership, but not here,” Mr. Hopkins said, adding:
“Different people will look at the housing crisis in different ways. Some are focused on the need for a stable work force, while others are focused on the need to do the right thing, the idea that people should have the right to have affordable housing . . . but at the end of the day we are asking people through increased taxes and contributions to contribute to this. Everybody understands the problems.”
The fund was set up in 1999 as a charitable organization to raise money for the development of affordable housing. Mr. Hopkins is its fourth director. Last year the fund brought in about $2.6 million; he said well over $2 million of that money went to housing. The fund gives much of its money — but not all — to its sister nonprofit, the Island Housing Trust, which writes ground leases and develops housing projects. Money raised by the fund also goes to Habitat for Humanity and the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. The list of housing organizations on the Island goes on: in addition to the trust, the fund, Habitat and the housing authority there are affordable housing committees in every town, plus Edgartown recently set up its own charitable housing trust; there is a tribal housing authority and a well-established and long-standing elderly housing authority.
And there is widespread confusion about who does what.
Mr. Hopkins easily concedes the point.
“One of the things that is my primary focus coming into this job is to clarify a lot of the confusion,” he said, adding: “The fund goal and mission is very simple: to increase the housing stock by any means necessary. We are not committed to funding the trust or Habitat or DCRHA — we are committed to all of those and more. The fund’s mission is to support financially any qualified effort that is looking to tackle the housing challenge on the Island.”
To that end he has gotten his feet wet rather quickly; he said his first 48 hours on the job were spent in talks with the backers of the Bridge Housing project, who recently announced they were financially exhausted and calling it quits on their plan to develop 15 acres off State Road in Vineyard Haven into affordable housing after years of delays due to regulatory and legal tangles.
Mr. Hopkins said the talks are preliminary but he emphasized the commitment to help salvage the project if possible.
“We have been involved in intense conversation, and while 100 per cent of the parties involved have not bought in, there is a workout plan and we think we have come up with an approach . . . that is truly a priority and at the top of the list for my first 100 days,” he said.
Other projects in the pipeline include Bradley Square in Oak Bluffs, which needs to raise more than $1 million; 250 State Road in West Tisbury, which is in the early stages of construction; and Lambert’s Cove Road in Vineyard Haven, which broke ground this week.
Mr. Hopkins said stable rental housing for year-round residents is also of interest. “Historically there has been a great deal of focus on home ownership and we have to be receptive to the need for increasing rental inventory; that has not been a focus in the past,” he said.
He would not disclose his salary, but he did say that the fund operation is lean. “Historically we have kept overhead of the fund between 10 and 14 per cent of revenues gained; my goal is to get that number down to between eight and 10 per cent . . . we try to direct as much of the money back to the mission as possible. We have a staff of three and a voluntary board who are not compensated.”
His background includes an undergraduate degree in 1982 from the Boston University School of Management, followed by work in the high technology field, including software development and financial services.
Before buying his house and moving to the Island full-time, Mr. Hopkins had been a lifelong seasonal resident; his mother is Esther Hopkins of Boston and Oak Bluffs, and his father is the late Rev. T. Ewell Hopkins. He is married to Kimberly Cartwright and they have three children: Kristine, Danielle and Tripp. Mr. Hopkins and his wife are members of the Unitarian Universalist Society and active in preschool groups.
His final confession: his wife is known far better on the Island than he is. “Everybody knows Kimberly. Nobody knows me,” he laughed.