The Hearts & Housing of Island People

To most of us, housing seems to be one of those things like the weather or the stock market controlled by unseen forces far outside our reach. Yet decade after decade, we feel the impacts of these forces keenly in our lives.

What are the possibilities around how communities members might move from being impacted outsiders to influencing, benefitting from or even controlling the forces of housing in their own community?

These two stories shared by the Schumacher Center illustrate how much is possible:

By their very nature, islands have a limited land mass. The allocation of use of that land raises heightened public debate pitting social, economic, and environmental interests against each other. Community Land Trusts stand as an arbitrator of these concerns.

Lopez Community Land Trust serves the 2,200 residents living on the thirty square miles of land of Lopez Island, one of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. Founded in 1989 by a group of residents concerned with rising home costs intensified by demand from summer residents, the original objective was to create secure housing options for year-round residents.

As an island community, members of Lopez CLT understood that resources were limited. They would build simply, sharing labor and designing for energy efficiency.

 

Common Ground, completed in 2009, is a sustainable net zero energy project which has received numerous design awards. Features include straw bale construction with earthen plaster, rainwater catchment, solar hot water and a grid-tied solar electric system. Common Ground is a mixed-income development of 11 homes, 2 rental units and an office/resource center.

 

Island residents also recognized the necessity to save the limited farmland on the island to address food security issues. Lopez CLT responded with the Lopez Island Farm Trust (LIFT) project. LIFT promotes buying fresh produce from island farms; it sponsored purchase of a mobile processing unit to facilitate more island-raised meat; and it provides training for new farmers. In 2017 Lopez CLT purchased the historic Stonecrest Farm, leasing it to a young family so the land stays in active food production.

 

Hay harvest at Stonecrest Farm, a Lopez Community Land Trust property.

Lopez CLT holds land in multiple neighborhoods for a total of 39 homes reserved for year-round residents. Organizers boast that when housing is secure, folks engage more actively in their community. Indeed, over the years, CLT home owners have opened nine new small businesses on the island. By 2018 the benefits of the organization were so broadly recognized that Lopez CLT received its first gift of land. Two more followed in 2019.

Started around a kitchen table in 1989, Lopez CLT is now understood as providing a tool for island residents to shape the future use of their land.

Martha’s Vineyard is an island off of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Its 87 square miles is home to over 15,000 year-round residents, but its population swells during the summer months as a well-heeled vacation home community moves in. Land prices are exceptionally high. The need for housing for essential workers is so broadly understood on Martha’s Vineyard that merchants are donating a percentage of monthly sales to Island Housing Trust (IHT) thereby taxing themselves to build homes for fellow community members. Annabelle and Simon Hunton, owners of Nobnocket Inn, were so touched by IHT’s depiction of island neighbors facing a crisis in locating stable housing that they donated 2% of all the Inn’s income in the month of April to IHT. And others are doing the same.

IHT is good at leveraging state and federal funding to build rental and ownership housing that meet funding criteria. But more was needed and the organization has learned to be creative.

In just one of its many innovative projects, IHT partnered with the local hospital to solve an island crisis. Many critical hospital employees live off-island because they cannot find island housing and so cannot reach their posts if weather delays the ferry. IHT bought a former inn and renovated it to include multiple two-bedroom apartments, now called Hanover House. Through a master lease, the hospital took on all the units at market rates so IHT can repay its upfront investment. The hospital then rents to individual employees at subsidized rates, securing a critical workforce.

Hanover House was converted from an inn to workforce housing through a unique partnership with Island Housing Trust and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

Working with a local bank, IHT created three investment funds to support short term construction, finance longer term mortgages, and capitalize an opportunity fund to move quickly if property becomes available. Local residents – both year-round and seasonal – invest in these funds, providing added community support for an organization addressing the needs of the island.

Homes at Jenney Way, an Island Housing Trust neighborhood.

Like Lopez CLT, IHT is committed to green energy design. The 2010 Jenney Way project set the standard with a pocket neighborhood of 9 single family homes and a community building, all meeting LEED standards. The project was built by South Mountain Company, a local worker-owned company. At the ribbon cutting ceremony one of the future residents spoke for the group:

“The hearts of Island people are focused on personal responsibility, thriftiness, kindness and neighborliness.  And we felt very strongly about helping these connections continue to survive on the Island, where more and more people are transient.”

In its eleven years, IHT has created 60 home-ownership opportunities and 80 rentals for full-time islanders.

 

 

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