New Housing Director

By JOSHUA SABATINI

Last year the average house on Martha's Vineyard sold for nearly $600,000. "Unless you are making well over $100,000, it's very difficult to even imagine owning a home here," said Philippe Jordi, the new executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. By accomplishing many goals and using several techniques, Mr. Jordi has an optimistic vision of managing 100 affordable housing units by the year 2005.

Mr. Jordi's office is set up inside the new home of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, at 346 State Road in Tisbury. The building has been renovated inside and out - much of the work was volunteered - and on this day when Mr. Jordi met with the Gazette, carpenters were finishing the front porch in preparation for the open house event on Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. Islanders are invited to meet Mr. Jordi and learn more about the housing authority and its vision for the future.

Three years have passed since the housing authority has had an executive director. The agency was established in 1986 as a state-chartered public housing authority serving the Islands of Martha's Vineyard and Cuttyhunk. The housing authority has a mission to provide and facilitate the development of affordable, quality, year-round housing for the residents of Dukes County, addressing the housing needs of residents with low and moderate incomes.

"Even back in the 1980s it was evident that people were having a very difficult time finding year-round affordable housing and for that reason the housing authority as a regional body was established so we could begin to develop and plan for the Island. We established a board that represented each of the towns. Thereby, we have a great opportunity to regionalize," said Mr. Jordi. The board consists of eight members, and has a representative from each of the Island's six towns.

While there are many methods for creating affordable housing, one philosophy is constant for all of the housing authority's decisions. "The goal is to provide affordable quality year-round housing, and the way we look at doing that is through a scattered site approach," said Mr. Jordi. This approach maintains the community's character, essentially creating a balanced mix, opposed to practices off-Island that often mass affordable housing units together.

The housing authority owns and manages 42 permanent affordable rental units including eight three-bedroom units, the Fisher Road Townhouse in Edgartown, and four units in West Tisbury, the Sepiessa Point Apartments - both of which were acquired within the last five years.

The housing authority manages the units, screens applicants and keeps a waiting list; people making 80 per cent or less of the median income are eligible. "There are approximately 80 families on the waiting list looking for two to three-bedroom units for the most part," Mr. Jordi said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has defined the median income in Dukes County for 2001 as $57,000 for a family of four. Mr. Jordi said he would like to see the median income change to better reflect the Island's economic state. "I know people who are making 100 per cent and above the median income and are having an extremely difficult time, especially the middle class. Many people feel the guidelines that HUD has come up with are not accurate. Like Nantucket, we are thinking about petitioning those guidelines because right now who we can serve is limited."

A family typically remains in a unit approximately three years and then moves on. "We have seen people move on to ownership of affordable housing after renting. It goes to show you there are people who are able to move on if there are opportunities provided," said Mr. Jordi.

The housing authority helps towns ensure opportunities by providing technical assistance for them. If a town owns a piece of land, the housing authority will take over managing the land and execute the whole process.

Mr. Jordi will be a busy man. In a moment's time, he grows enthusiastic about a great list of methods he would like to investigate, pursue or implement to help the Island's need. He is pushing for deed restrictions on lands which start out as affordable housing lots. "We are working on a model deed rider. This will provide for permanent affordability. What's happening now is the state will approve of a 99-year restriction - in the past it has only been 10 to 30 years. People who received land through the lottery have sometimes sold it after the restrictions ended and gained, so we lose that parcel," said Mr. Jordi.

At a May 24 affordable housing forum, Housing Trusts and Mortgage Lending on Leased Land, Mr. Jordi walked away with a new concept that may work on the Island: community land trusts. Functioning much like the land bank, the community land trust would work to acquire land and housing units that would remain forever sites of affordable housing. Mr. Jordi said it is a possible future step, and it would require creating a nonprofit entity to manage it.

A program that Mr. Jordi has drafted, based on examples found in Aspen, Colo., and Barnstable County, is the rental conversion program. By the fall, Mr. Jordi hopes to run a pilot project in which the housing authority will move into the private market. Approximately 56 per cent of the housing stock on the Island, according to the 2000 census, is vacant or seasonal. "Instead of building more, we are looking to use what we have. We are trying to provide incentives to homeowners that make it attractive to them to rent year-round," said Mr. Jordi. Through the program, the housing authority would like to act as a supervising agency for renters and owners of summer houses, investment properties or guest houses. The agency would act much like it does now when going through the applicant process for their own housing units. One incentive to get owners to provide their housing units for affordable housing may be a tax break.

With close to 20 organizations on the Island that deal in some way with affordable housing, communication among the entities is paramount. "What we are doing for affordable housing is really a mosaic of different efforts, different organizations working for the region and towns, working toward achieving a greater amount of affordable housing for the Island," Mr. Jordi said. "The housing authority has a role in trying to help coordinate and facilitate that. I will be introducing myself to the Martha's Vineyard Commission and extending myself to facilitate the regional bodies working together. All together, we need to have an understanding of where we are going and what we want to achieve."

Mr. Jordi views the new building as a symbol of more openness and communication among all organizations and anyone who wants to get involved. "The idea about this building is that it creates a clearinghouse so that anyone can come in here and work with us and have a space to meet. We are very proud of this building; a lot of work has been done by volunteers and a lot of things have been given pro-bono to make this happen."