Lauri Bradway has been having nightmares. In nine days, she will become homeless, unless she finds housing she can afford for the summer season.
“There’s a lot of competition out there,” Ms. Bradway said. “There just isn’t enough housing.”
An Island resident for 27 years, Ms. Bradway is one of a group of people working to shed light on the Vineyard shuffle, the annual problem they say is afflicting the community even more severely this year.
Since the end of February, Ms. Bradway, a 57-year-old caregiver for the elderly and disabled, has been searching tirelessly for a rental. She’s scoured the newspapers, searched online sites, and posted many times on the Facebook page, MV Housing Rentals, all to little avail.
“I have looked at places on this Island that would make you cry,” she said at a meeting at the Oak Bluffs library on Saturday.
Some 20 people showed up at the meeting, eager to discuss the problem of housing scarcity.
There are 251 people on the waitlist for affordable housing at the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. A list of displaced persons seeking housing that was posted on the MV Housing Rentals page had 28 entries Monday, including several families.
It was on Facebook that Ms. Bradway connected with Mellisa Zaccaria and Jayson Claypool, two Islanders who have been posting about their own desperate housing search.
Ms. Zaccaria and Mr. Claypool became homeless on April 25 after their landlord wanted to move his mother into their former apartment, terminating their lease.
Mr. Claypool, who owns a small technology solutions company, said he has two children in joint custody; a nine-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl.
“These are basic human rights — the right to have shelter, the right to feel stable,” he said before the forum began on Saturday.
Still, when Vineyarders hear his story, Mr. Claypool said they aren’t at all surprised. In a resort community where the cost of summer housing far exceeds the year-round price, twice-yearly moves from one house to another, or even a tent, are all too common.
“There’s this overwhelming apathy to the problem,” Mr. Claypool said. “People are falling back on that, it’s-the-way-it’s-always-been, so there is no sense in whining about it. My contention was, when there are children sleeping in cars, your point is invalid,” he added.
Ms. Zaccaria and Mr. Claypool slept in their car when they first became homeless. For now, they are crashing on a friend’s couch, but that situation is only temporary.
The couple has begun to document their struggles with film, and are calling the pseudo-documentary project The Shuffle.
Jeff Sullivan, who drives a taxi cab in the summer, said at the forum that housing has presented a constant hassle since he moved to the Island five years ago. “I am a classic example of the Island shuffle,” he said.
Jerimiah Miller said he and his wife and kids will be looking for housing July 1. “This is going on for us,” he said, visibly emotional. “We moved our family here for the community that we saw.”
“We have accepted the summer shuffle for really 30 years,” said David Vigneault, executive director of the regional housing authority. He said an improving economy has made year-round housing even more scarce.
“When the economy tanked in 2008, more year-round rentals became available,” he said.“Three years ago, there were still landlords.”
There is $53,000 available at the housing authority to assist year-rounders with their rent, but not enough landlords to provide affordable housing.
Some landlords are prejudiced against those receiving housing assistance; others have to charge too high a rent to make their mortgages.
Still others seem to assign extra privilege to tenants with strong Island ties over people who have recently arrived, Ms. Zaccaria said.
“There is an Islander-equals-community [mentality],” Ms. Zaccaria said. “If you are not an Islander in their eyes, then you are not part of the community.”
Mr. Vigneault said not to be cowed by that distinction. In reality, he said, no one votes you off the Island, alluding to the television reality show Survivor.
Unfortunately the majority of the people who vote are homeowners, he said, leaving few forums for the rental community to be heard. He suggested that the group take their cause to selectmen’s meetings to draw attention to the issue.
The group will host a public discussion on Wednesday, May 14. The location has not yet been determined, but updates will be posted at The Shuffle Documentary, a Facebook group.