Living and raising a family on Martha’s Vineyard for the last 11 years has provided me with a broad knowledge of local charitable organizations, each striving to protect what is special about our Island community. Despite the daunting number of nonprofit organizations, there is an impressive level of respect and support shared among these groups. I’m sure most would agree that the charitable work of this Island is impressive.
Prior to considering the position of executive director at the Island Affordable Housing Fund I thought of the fund as a charitable organization. I didn’t consider the possibility that the fund has been one of the most important Island-based economic engines for the last 10 years.
The work of the Island Affordable Housing Fund is so much more than charity.
The fund, like many organizations, has felt the impact of the current economy on its monies for programs. How can a program as crucial to the fabric of this community as the Rental Assistance Program run short of funds? In terms of dollars and cents it occurs when the individuals and organizations who support the fund, due to financial concerns of their own, cut in half the pledged amounts or worse, are unable to fulfill their pledge at all. But the real shortfall is occurring in our community’s commitment to itself. We have forgotten the essential nature of affordable housing to our way of life here. When those pledges don’t come in or are 50 per cent less than expected, there is a ripple effect. Not only is the Rental Assistance Program suffering, but so are other commitments.
There are 27 homes shovel-ready, or in some stage of development, that require funding. It is good news that much progress has been made with affordable housing on the Vineyard, but unfortunately there are some challenges we face as things continue to grow.
But the focus here is the Rental Assistance Program and its future. The good news is that December is not a concern to landlords and tenants. Donors, concerned community members, and the Edgartown and West Tisbury affordable housing committees have stepped up and have helped us overcome the financial challenge for December.
As I have stated to anyone who will listen, it is the intent of the Island Affordable Housing Fund to resume its contribution to this program at the earliest possible date. Over the last three weeks I have attempted to speak directly with every landlord impacted by this challenging time and assure them that it is a priority of the fund to raise the monies to resume this crucial program for sustainable housing.
The fund has been one of the most important Island-based economic engines for the last 10 years, and will continue to be a driving force in helping our community.
Let me take a moment to share a few additional thoughts on the economic impact of the fund. Because of the financial contributions of the fund to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority’s rental assistance program (in excess of $2.6 million over the last decade), several hundred families have been able to find safe, decent affordable housing and stay on the Island. These families probably each spend $50,000 per year on the Island — buying groceries, supporting mortgage payments and real estate taxes for their landlords, filling their cars with gas, eating in local restaurants, frequenting retail stores, using doctors, dentists and the hospital — the list goes on and on. The fund’s financial contributions have supported an average of 50 families annually over the past few years, indicating an annual infusion of $2.5 million into our Island businesses. Using the economic principle of a fiscal multiplier on a local level (the idea that an initial amount of spending, usually by the government, leads to increased consumption spending and results in an increase in national income greater than the initial amount of spending), a conservative multiplier of four applied to these families and their spending can easily translate into annual expenditures on the Island of $10 million. These are productive, active members of our community supplying their labor and talents to Island businesses and other organizations. The rental assistance program is not charity — it is an essential part of the economic engine of Martha’s Vineyard which drives the development and maintenance of our beloved community.
Another point of consideration is the fund’s sister organization, the Island Housing Trust. The trust has spent in excess of $12 million in construction of affordable housing over the past 10 years. Much of these expenditures support our tradesmen, who spend their incomes supporting their mortgages, paying real estate taxes, buying groceries and gas, eating in our restaurants, shopping in our stores — in short, supporting Island businesses, Island incomes and the Island way of life. Again, applying a multiplier of four to this level of spending results in an economic impact of over $48 million on the Island.
The Island Affordable Housing Fund has had a significant impact on the Vineyard over the past 10 years. In the next 10 years for the fund to do even more to help create and sustain affordable housing for our community, it must first provide a full public accounting of its finances and decision making process.
I would like to invite people with questions to attend the Island Affordable Housing Fund community meeting at the Vineyard Haven Library on Dec. 2 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the library program room. Through open dialogue I hope to lead the Island Affordable Housing Fund from this period of uncertainty in a direction which is understood and supported by our community.
T. Ewell Hopkins is executive director of the Island Affordable Housing Fund. He lives in Oak Bluffs.