EDGARTOWN, MASS. - Every year, at the beginning of summer, thousands of people pack their things and leave their homes on the island of Martha’s Vineyard because they can’t afford the price of a rental apartment here during the summer tourist season.
Locals call it the island shuffle. “They are living in their cars or moving to the mainland,” said Felicia Jacques. Jacques is director of development for The Community Builders (TCB), an affordable housing developer based in Boston.
Increasingly, the victims of this annual forced migration include teachers, firefighters, and municipal employees who work and live—for most of the year, that is—in Edgartown, Mass. So town officials decided to do something about it. This June, work finished on 60 new rental apartments at Morgan Woods; all these are affordable to households earning low or moderate incomes.
Morgan Woods was created because the town identified a 12-acre piece of land next to a nature conservancy and then offered to donate the land to an affordable housing developer with a strong proposal for it.
It’s not a coincidence that these 60 apartments are arranged in 21 buildings that look a lot like single-family homes, styled to match the island’s New England architecture with wooden shingles, weather clapboards, grand porches, and individual entryways. Any other architectural choice would have been a stark contrast to the rest of the island. The only multifamily buildings aside from Morgan Woods are decades old.
In fact, Morgan Woods is the biggest affordable housing development in the island’s long history, Jacques said, and the new project has more than doubled the island’s affordable housing stock.
The $262,000-per-unit development cost is relatively cheap considering that the difficulty of getting workers and materials onto the island generally adds 25 percent to the cost of construction there.
TCB reined in costs by using modular construction, in which room-sized pieces of the apartment buildings are created in factories and then shipped to the site, in this case on barges. “Every Friday night in the harbor you’d see one coming in,” remembered Bev Gallo, project manager for TCB.
Using factory-built modules saved TCB about 10 percent on the cost of materials. The move also gave the developer dependable delivery and freedom from unexpected cost increases.
“We had to build this on a time frame that did not butt into the tourist season,” Gallo said. Building large pieces of the development in a factory meant that work could start on the apartments in January, when it was still much too cold to work at the site.
TCB paid for the development with a $15.7 million package including a $4.9 million low-interest, 40-year loan funded by tax-exempt bonds issued by MassHousing; $4.1 million from the sale of 4 percent LIHTCs; $2.7 million from the sale of Massachusetts state tax credits; $1.8 million in soft financing from the Priority Development Funds Program; and $1 million in soft financing from the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Additional project information, as provided in application by the nominator.
Q. Why does the nominated project deserve to be recognized based on the award criteria of this contest?
A. Morgan Woods is an unprecedented example of a community-driven affordable housing project on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts. First conceived by the island residents of Edgartown and led by its Board of Selectmen, the project addresses the extraordinary demand for affordable housing in Edgartown. Like many seaside communities, Edgartown’s economy is primarily driven by seasonal tourism, catering mostly to wealthy summer visitors who call the island their home between May and September. This influx of affluent part-time residents fuels real estate prices higher and higher, so that most full-time residents of the island cannot afford to buy, or event rent a home year-round. An increasing number of these residents find themselves maneuvering the “Island Shuffle,” either forced to rent island homes, or forced by landlords to vacate during the lucrative summer months and seek shelter elsewhere, often off-island.
When the summer visitors leave, the island’s full-time residents move back to their part-time homes, reorganize their lives, and continue to try to make ends meet until the next tourist season arrives. Faced with this ever-decreasing standard of living, many residents choose to move off-island permanently. This not only puts further stress on the local tourist economy, but also breaks up families, many of whom have called the Vineyard home for generations. The departure of longtime residents stresses the underlying fabric of the full-time island community at large. Morgan Woods addresses this challenge by bridging the wide gap between the wealthy tourists and summer residents, and the low-to-moderate-income residents, who are the backbone of the local economy.
In 2004, Edgartown chose The Community Builders, Inc. (TCB) to develop this 60-unit project to be built on 12 acres of land, which the town assembled and donated. TCB worked closely with the members of the Board of Selectmen, local businesses, the regional housing authority, and many full-time residents to put in place the necessary zoning and permits. As we begin the rent-up process, we start to see the longer-term impact of this project on the community. Response for resident applicants has been extraordinary—locals are excited for the opportunity to permanently settle back into the community they call home. Moreover, on the heels of this success, several additional developments are currently in the works in Edgartown, and in the surrounding communities of Chilmark, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury.
As the largest affordable housing development in the island’s long history, the 60 units at Morgan Woods more than doubled the total stock of year-round affordable housing units in Edgartown. This project is being heralded as the most important affordable housing effort to date on Martha’s Vineyard, and is proving to be the best, most efficient way to meet the housing needs of year-round residents, and in turn, inspiring future developments of this scope and scale.
The higher cost of transportation of materials to Martha’s Vineyard and the diminished labor supply challenged the project. Morgan Woods overcame this by utilizing modular housing. The consistency and predictability of the housing units’ production—often-criticized features of modular housing—ensured on-time and on-budget delivery of all units. Further, TCB worked closely with the ENERGY STAR to ensure that all housing systems and assemblies met or exceeded the state’s energy-efficiency standards and goals for new construction. This way we can promote the affordability of the units in perpetuity.
Modular housing systems are limited with respect to design and aesthetics. Winslow Design Associates of Cambridge, Mass., designed our homes to look more like traditional structures than much of the manufactured housing on the market today. Wood clapboards and weathered shingles clad the exterior of the buildings, and grand family porches and individual entryways make each unit look and feel like a single-family home. Innovative disguised-density techniques allow each building to house between two and four residential units, styled on a variety of traditional New England structures. All the buildings are generously set back from environmentally sensitive areas.
Q. How does this project represent an innovative solution to a specific development challenge?
A. The biggest challenge to bringing affordable housing to Martha’s Vineyard was the ability to bring together and maintain broad-based community support, and to construct truly affordable homes in one of the highest-cost regions of New England, and the U.S. The creation of a true public-private partnership was critical to the project’s ultimate success: Edgartown brought the land and a collective desire to fight skyrocketing real estate costs, and The Community Builders brought its extensive knowledge and expertise in the field of community development and affordable housing, as well as its ability to produce the resources necessary to financially underwrite such a project.