Houses on Move Auction Raises $160,000

Islanders Press Drive to Ease Affordable Housing Crisis

By MANDY LOCKE

The scene was Vineyard ironic - hundreds of people gathering at the agricultural hall to shuffle "houses" for the sake of ending the Island's dreaded summer shuffle tradition.

On Saturday night, the handiwork of well over 100 Vineyarders who hammered, painted and molded everything from owl houses to lighthouses, playhouses to doghouses, brought in more than $160,000 at auction.

For the second year in a row, Houses on the Move brought together a team of builders, artists and folks at large to create a parade of houses - small models, artwork and actual structures - along with a few other items to be sold off for the benefit of the Island's affordable housing crisis.

"We all have the privilege of calling this Island home," said steering committee chairwoman Candy daRosa, welcoming the hundreds of gala patrons to this year's fundraiser. "We all had the good sense to have chosen this place to plant our roots. But it's not all about beauty, it's about people.

"We must make sure our neighbors have a roof over their heads," she said.

Those who strolled along Panhandle Road Saturday witnessed what appeared to be a colony of elves building a new village on the grounds of the agricultural hall. Half-pints climbed in and out of a half-circle of mini-houses, a quarter Cape designed by Colonial Reproductions in Edgartown and a post-and-beam barn crafted by Glenn Hearn, John Curelli and Roger Schofield.

The tiniest of the bunch crawled into the two-story dog castle built by Paul Brisette's students at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. Parents tested the three-sided outdoor shower, designed over the winter by a team of young architects at Mark Hutker & Associates Architects Inc. - Greg Ehrman, Angie Francis, James Moffatt, Brian Stein and Susie Himel.

Exhausted from petting cows, finger painting and galloping around the Sandpiper Realty gazebo, the children climbed onto the bunk beds in the gingerbread cottage playhouse crafted by Reagan Construction.

On Saturday morning, a cardboard town got a facelift, as children joined parents to pour, mix and dribble a colorful coat of paint on boxes clipped and cut to resemble the jail, agricultural hall, Menemsha schoolhouse and many other signature Island structures.

"There were so many endearing and funny vignettes of paint-daubed families, little girls cantering with pigtails flying, a calf with milk dripping from her chocolate muzzle," said Susan Spence, executive director for the Island Affordable Housing Fund.

Every Island artist asked to offer a piece for this year's Island Affordable Housing Fund auction inventory gladly complied.

"Many of these artists are in need of housing themselves, so it was very generous for them to sacrifice their art," said Dragonfly Gallery owner Holly Alaimo, who hung all the pieces in the foyer of the agricultural hall.

Later Saturday evening, hundreds of folks spiffed beyond Island casual returned to the agricultural hall in the early evening to drink, chat and develop strategies to secure items they couldn't return home without.

Lively cocktail conversation filled the hall, but discussions never strayed too far from the affordable housing problem central to the event.

Island Affordable Housing chairman John Abrams held the audience in the palm of his hand, painting a startling picture of the Island's affordable housing crisis.

"The loss of affordable housing happened through the years," he said. "We see a decimated community and it all seemed to happen so fast."

The Island's learning curve for affordable housing problems has been steep over the last year. To determine the exact scope of the housing crisis, the fund contracted a needs assessment that pinpointed a housing market 85 per cent higher than the state average and a workforce earning 27 per cent less than average. It also painted a picture of persevering renters, half of whom have spent more than 10 years enduring the housing shuffle.

"It showed us a daunting picture of something we already know - a crisis of great dimension," Mr. Abrams continued.

With the $185,000 raised by last summer's auction, the housing fund placed 20 families in stable year-round rentals.

"Good models can make all the difference," Mr. Abrams said. "But there's still the ‘not in my back yard' and the ‘I'm just playing devil's advocate.' Well, the devil has all the help she needs."

With that, the Island's own nationally acclaimed storyteller, Susan Klein, stepped to the microphone and with all her sassiness spurred the audience into a bidding war.

"Ladies, step up. You're the ones with the money and we all know it," Ms. Klein said with a quick shake of her head.

As the guests finished their feast of lobster tails, the paper auction paddles created by local students began to shoot up as guests attempted to outbid each other.

A literal birdhouse - a long-necked bird with a big house for his body and a "guest house" for his head - received more laughs than bids. Thanks to the creativity of Mary McManama and Jessy Steere of Shirley's Hardware, "Big Bird" brought $1,000.

The crowd went crazy over a stick house built from old paintbrushes by Island artist Margot Datz. Despite a market value of only $500, a group of three vied for the item until the bitter end, claiming the piece for $3,100.

A ceramic beehive-shaped vessel by Island potter Susan Button soared well beyond its $700 market value, bringing in $3,500.

A Finnish-style outdoor sauna complete with a porch shower, crafted by South Mountain Company, earned the highest bid of the night, selling for $41,000.

The Beetlebung Steel Band brought the evening to a close with some reggae tunes just before 10 o'clock. An open three-liter bottle of Benziger cabernet - purchased for $1,000 at the auction's end - made its way through the crowd as the volunteers toasted one another.

Groups of friends were already huddled together to brainstorm for next year's houses.

With two successful years under its belt, Houses on the Move became an Island tradition Saturday night.

"Houses on the Move demonstrated powerfully the values the Island Affordable Housing board strives for in housing. . . taste, Vineyard appropriateness, creative and careful use of resources [and] high-quality collaboration," Ms. Spence said. "Most importantly, Houses on the Move demonstrated non-verbally the richness, diversity and talent of this community we are all working to preserve."