Housing Survey Issued

By MANDY LOCKE

The Island Affordable Housing Fund (IAHF) will put a face to the Island housing crisis this summer through an extensive information gathering effort. Islanders will notice miniature yellow houses stationed across Martha's Vineyard to distribute and gather responses from residents caught in the summer shuffle of the housing crisis.

The private nonprofit group launched the project this week with distribution of the Vineyard Rental Survey in today's Gazette. The goal is to gather input from as many year-round renters as possible to guage the depth of the housing problem accurately. Surveys also are attached to miniature yellow houses scattered across the community. Volunteers will distribute surveys to Island businesses that employ year-round renters. IAFH even translated the survey into Portuguese to gather data from the Brazilian population as well.

"We can guess the problem's depth. There are few people who don't know someone who's left. We know anecdotally what's going on," said Susan Spence, acting director of the Island Affordable Housing Fund.

"The problem is not a mystery any longer. We now need to substantiate what everyone already knows. We need to steer our efforts and must uncover subtleties to do so," said John Abrams, chairman of IAHF.

Ms. Spence and the IAHF realize that efforts rely largely on fundraising, and effective fundraising depends upon accurate information.

"They want to look at the bottom line," she said, referring to business owners and town officials.

Ms. Spence and Mr. Abrams watch the affordable housing problem loom out of control with each passing year.

"Every six months that go by, the gap widens. Some of the most interesting people are leaving the Island. They want to own, and they can't do it here," she said.

The high profits of renting seasonally pull many homeowners out of the year-round pool. Added to that, many longtime Island residents have cashed out and sold their homes to people who no longer rent rooms or apartments, Ms. Spence said.

"It's not just about seasonal workers," Ms. Spence emphasized.

Indeed, the problem affects teachers, carpenters and fishermen — people who hold this community together before and after the summer rush.

"The Island's housing poor includes the middle class," Mr. Abrams said.

The survey asks renters about income, family size, town, length of time on the Island and rent prices paid in summer and off-season. While the government solicited similar information in Census 2000, detailed information from the Census will not be available until the summer of 2002.

Another problem with census data, Ms. Spence said, is the temptation to underreport one's income.

"The Island has a lot of cash flow. People tend to relate the census to other areas of government, such as the IRS," she said.

Given the anonymity of the survey, people can comfortably provide accurate information.

"He likes the idea of having an impact," Ms. Spence said. Preliminary results will be ready in July for fundraising purposes, with a more complete study available in October. Then the entire Island must swing into action to address the problem, using recommendations from the study.

"It's the responsibility of everyone who lives, works and governs on Martha's Vineyard," Mr. Abrams said.

Certainly the solution will be just as complicated as the problem.

"It's not just about bricks and mortar," Ms. Spence said. Mr. Abrams recognized that progress has been made in the last few years. And he cautiously applauds these strides. But he added, "It's not a time to celebrate small successes of the last few years. We need to work for the larger successes to come."