When the Vineyard Haven home that longtime Island resident Vivian DeSilveira and her family had been renting for the past six years was sold last November, she was given three months to find new housing.

Ms. DeSilveira was pregnant with her second child at the time.

“My head was crazy. We looked everywhere to find another house. We were thinking we would have to move off-Island,” she said. “They were patient with us because they knew we had a newborn coming, but it’s pressure. We knew we had to leave.”

Being forced to move because a landlord had sold a house was a familiar situation for Ms. DeSilveira, who had experienced it twice previously in her 19 years on-Island, and luckily found other stable housing both times.

But this was different. After a frantic search, she and her family ended up renting two rooms in her husband’s cousin’s house. Next year, when the agreement is up, they’ll have to find somewhere else to go.

“Before, like six years ago, it was easy to find a house on the Island,” she said. “Now it’s impossible.”

Renter displacement is a familiar issue on Martha’s Vineyard, where the confluence of pricey summer homes and a dearth of affordable units have made the year-round housing search a sisyphean struggle for Islanders who don’t own property.

But the booming pandemic real estate market has only worsened the Island’s housing crisis, driving rental prices up and drying up inventory — with the loss of rental property an overlooked, and often illegal, side effect.

And as Islanders continue to sell homes at both record rates and record prices, stories from tenants like Ms. DeSilveira are becoming all the more familiar.

The Gazette spoke with tenants, property managers and housing advocates across the Island socio-economic spectrum who had experience with properties getting sold during the recent real estate boom. All of them — from long-term renters with previously secure housing, to those who have survived on the fringes for years — have been forced to navigate an increasingly unaffordable and unforgiving market.

David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, said since the pandemic began, his organization has been receiving calls on a weekly basis from renters — or in many cases, landlords on their behalf — who have recently been displaced. The recent numbers are staggering, he said.

“At the housing authority, since after the Great Recession when we resumed business, there has been a somewhat constant trickle of these situations,” Mr. Vigneault said. “That trickle just turned into a raging torrent.”

Ms. DeSilveira said she has multiple friends in similar situations as herself, including a friend who was renting a guest house on the property where Ms. DeSilveira was living. The friend has not yet found a place to live, Ms. DeSilveira said.

“It’s not just the Brazilian community. It’s everybody now,” she said.

The housing authority’s vacancy wait list lost 25 units and gained 20 more wait list members in the period of a month this winter, Mr. Vigneault said. Real estate agents and brokers from multiple Island agencies, including Candy daRosa, a real estate associate at Karen M. Overtoom real estate, said they have begun receiving email blasts multiple times a week from brokers seeking housing arrangements for recently displaced renters. Similar stories have flooded the Facebook group MV Long-term Housing Rentals with few responses.

“It’s affecting everybody at all strata right now,” said Mr. Vigneault, who emphasized that those in higher income levels (whose salaries are 100 per cent, or even 140 per cent of the median Island income) have found themselves straining to afford rent — not to mention those who fall well below the average income, as the Island’s affordability gap skyrockets.

“We’re talking about households making $100,000 who can’t find housing,” Mr. Vigneault said.

Diana Lin, who works as an interior designer for the Island architectural firm Hutker Associates, said she chose to leave her year-round rental when around-the-clock open houses and property tours made living in her basement studio untenable. Her new rental is seasonal.

“It became . . . a disturbance because there would be people coming in to see the room almost every week and I was working from home,” she said. “I really didn’t have a choice at that point.”

Katherine Dockery, a part owner of a family property, said when the primary shareholder decided to sell, she and her family were suddenly out of their home of 12 years. Entering the renter and buyers market simultaneously has been a challenge, she said. “That’s a horrible process. I feel bad for people who have to do the shuffle all the time.”

And with a striking proportion of landlords foregoing formal written leases in favor of more familiar, spoken or at-will agreements, the problem of renter displacement can also be hard to track, swaying in and out of the legal shadows.

According to the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, landlords cannot legally attempt to evict a renter before the end of their lease unless they violate the agreement, even if the landlord sells the house. But renters with less formal or month-to-month lease arrangements can be forced to leave after one rental period. Others simply aren’t aware of the law, and leave on their own accord.

“A really significant number of Island landlords are off the books,” said Mr. Vigneault. “That allows for a lot of extralegal transfer and shifting and moving and shaking on rental arrangements, and that’s a factor.”

One property manager, Carmine Cerone, said two of her tenants who had been renting year-round for nearly seven years were recently displaced. Their lease made no mention about the possibility of a home sale.

Ms. DeSilveira said her year-long lease was supposed to be renewed in September, but the landlord never signed, making the document effectively unenforceable and offering her little recourse.

The recent spate of rental displacements has been driven by two inextricable factors since the pandemic began, Mr. Vigneault said: decreased inventory and increased prices.

In 2020, about 450 homes and 300 parcels of land changed hands, with an average sale price of $1.4 million, shattering previous real estate records.

The pandemic has also prompted former summer residents to remain in their homes for the off-season, in many cases thinning an already threadbare inventory of informal year-round and winter rentals. Mr. Vigneault estimated 1,000 households relocated to their seasonal Island homes last March alone.

“What we had was a steady choking off of [year-round rental] opportunities over the last 20 years and it’s just become an absolute at this point,” said Mr. Vigneault. “We’re not fully aware of the extraordinary degree that the last year of sales transfers . . . has exacerbated what was already a huge problem.”

But rental prices have reflected it.

In a recent housing needs assessment, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission reported that average monthly rents on the Island in 2020 were $1,459, compared to $1,180 in 2010. More steeply priced homes are also driving up rental prices, as some landlords hike monthly fees in an effort to chip away at their astronomical mortgages, brokers said. Other new homeowners aren’t putting their houses up for rent at all.

Ms. Cerone said she knew of a family that had been forced to split up to find housing. Others, like Ms. Lin, have simply considered moving off-Island. But for many, the answer isn’t so simple.

“We love to live on the Island, because it’s quiet, it’s safe for kids and we have our jobs here,” said Ms. DeSilveira. “[But] It’s a sad situation.”

Solutions have also been difficult to come by, affordable housing experts said.

Although the Island has an array of affordable housing groups, ranging from nonprofit developers like the Island Housing Trust to town-sponsored projects, capacity is limite

d compared with the Island’s growing demand. This winter, the regional housing authority has begun offering Covid rent relief for up to 50 per cent of rent for four months. But that doesn’t matter if renters can’t find a unit — or it gets sold.

Ms. Dockery is still looking for housing, unsure if she can afford to buy and struggling to find a rental. Ms. Lin still doesn’t know where she’ll live in the summer. Ms. DeSilveira needs to find stable housing with her newborn.

“I’ve been in this position saying the sky was falling for quite a while and believe me, I’m not the only one and not the loudest one,” Mr. Vigneault said. “But the sky is falling, and it’s falling in bigger chunks right now.”