That Place Called Home on Halcyon Way: Vineyard Builders Give Back to the Island

By MANDY LOCKE

The steady banging of hammers and hum of table saws drifting across Old County Road in West Tisbury offered every indication that the Halcyon Way work site was just another Island home under construction.

But the concentration of construction vehicles from a half-dozen different contractors, a three-year-old running around with a half-pint tool belt strapped to her waist and the crock pots full of chowder and chili suggested otherwise.

More than a dozen Islanders rose with the sun Saturday to bang cedar shingles into the West Tisbury duplex - helping contractor Tucker Hubbell shave thousands of dollars off the affordable housing project's bottom line.

"It would have taken me and another guy the better part of 10 days to shingle this house," said Mr. Hubbell, a 25-year veteran of the trade, who is building the home for the Island Affordable Housing Development Corporation for only hourly wages.

And Mr. Hubbell, using the good graces of fellow contractors and a half dozen novices, poured just shy of 100 volunteer hours into the Halcyon Way project.

By the end of the beautiful fall afternoon, Mr. Hubbell, Eric Whitman, Ken Leuchtenmacher, Harold Chapdelaine, David Ferraguzzi, Pat Mitchell, Peter Huntington, Mike Lynch, John Abrams and David Vigneault pounded hundreds of cedar shingles into the classic Cape. The crew extended their normal Monday through Friday routine into Saturday to help Mr. Hubbell and the cause. By day's end the builders and helpers covered more than half the house, saving the development corporation about $1,500 in labor costs and pushing the completion date ahead by several days.

The builders, each with decades of experience, stood far enough apart to claim plenty of work space but close enough to eye one another's shingling techniques.

"Getting the banter down is more than half of it," said Mr. Chapdelaine after critiquing a volunteer on a habit learned from another builder.

The contractors positioned themselves around the "shinglers in training" - code for the handful of unskilled volunteers - to teach the art of Island shingling. Three-year-old Willa Vigneault, who lives just down the street, practiced writing her name in pencil on the top of a row of shingles as she handed nails to her father.

Patching together state grants, land owned by the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, donations and discounts from Island tradesmen and retailers, the Island Affordable Housing Development Corporation, Mr. Hubbell and architect Margaret Curtin will add two two-bedroom rental units to the Vineyard's meager affordable housing stock. The group also took advantage of new West Tisbury zoning regulations that allow by special permit multi-family dwellings for affordable housing.

"The town of West Tisbury deserves credit, specifically the planning board for redoing the zoning bylaws to allow more flexibility in zoning, such as duplexes and building on substandard lots [for affordable housing]," Mr. Hubbell said.

Two months shy of deadline, Mr. Hubbell expects the entire project to come in under $215,000. Square footage breakdown for the two 950-square-foot apartments comes to $112 per square foot - $17 less than low-end modular homes and about $70 less than the average new home built on the Vineyard. Rental income from families earning less than 80 per cent of median income, about $850 a month plus utilities, will pay back the $125,000 mortgage from Martha's Vineyard Cooperative Bank.

Mr. Hubbell - who admits his two college-age children may never be able to afford a home on the Vineyard - is acutely aware of the Island's affordable housing crisis.

"My wife and I bought our land in 1979 for $20,000. We were just under the wire. I wish I'd bought land years ago and stored it away for my children," Mr. Hubbell said.

Mr. Hubbell, who has watched lot prices quadruple in a mere 10 years in the same subdivision, decided to take a break from his for-profit company to bang nails for clients who might otherwise believe Island builders and affordable home ownership to be beyond their reach.

"It's nice to be able to do something to give back to the community," Mr. Hubbell said while giving a tour through the two apartments tucked inside the single-family residence facade.

After completing the Halcyon Way project in early December, he'll start work on another affordable home in West Tisbury for a nonprofit group, The Good House Association, that he and a handful of other Island residents started recently.

"Hopefully I won't lose my shirt and my kids won't have to drop out of college in the process," Mr. Hubbell said.

Mr. Hubbell's son, Tim, a senior at Boston College, joined his father at the Halcyon Way duplex this summer to learn the trade and move the project along.

"To spend time with your child as an adult is really rewarding," Mr. Hubbell said.

"Plus, it was nice to have a young body around," he added, noting that he can only survive so many days of framing as he grows older.

The Halcyon Way duplex shows no sign that it was designed and constructed to meet affordable standards. Mr. Hubbell and the subcontractors cut no corners - from the meticulous shingling job to cedar casings around top-line windows to sturdy and detailed cabinets. Without breaks from subcontractors and suppliers, Mr. Hubbell knows the bottom line would have soared well beyond $215,000.

"Everyone who's worked on this has given something," he said. The company even received a used washer and dryer to install in one of the apartments. And Sarah Vail of Threadworks, who balanced her baby on one hip while daughter Willa helped outside, measured windows in hopes of donating some curtains to the house.

As Mr. Hubbell gazed at the crowd of volunteers, the builder appeared touched but not surprised by the generous spirit that has moved this project along for the past five months.

"This community has done a lot for me and others. It was time to give back," he said.