I met Sophie, the Development Manager for Island Housing Trust, at a sun-soaked table by the window of the Little House Cafe on State Road. We chose Little House for our meeting spot because it was convenient to her office, she needed lunch, and they brew a beautiful cinnamon tea. In retrospect, no other restaurant could have been more appropriate for our meeting.
Sophie was there to discuss the launch of the Tisbury Turkey campaign for Island Housing Trust, a Martha's Vineyard non-profit in the business of helping residents find affordable, and permanent, housing solutions. If you've never experienced the "Island Shuffle," I should explain why permanent is as important as affordable in that mission. In an environment that favors seasonal rentals (weekly rental in summertime is generally more profitable for home owners in ten weeks than year-round rentals are in twelve months), residents find that locating and securing a year-round rental is very difficult or even impossible. So, they do the Shuffle. It goes something like this: find a home for September-May, and another June-August, then start all over with a new September-May home, and so on.
It's not uncommon for families to move two or three times a year for years before they can find something to call home year-around. For many families, "home" in the summer means a tent at the campground, an overcrowded basement apartment, or couch-surfing week to week with generous friends. All that at the busiest time of the year, when for many Islanders, it's make-or-break time when they need to earn enough money to last the winter, or find themselves homeless and broke come January. This year, several teachers are finding themselves homeless for finals, as a rough winter has extended the school year beyond the end of leases.
Island Housing Trust works with other local agencies to build single and multi-family units that fit both the needs of Islanders and the requirements of Island land-use restrictions and aesthetics. It's not always an easy balance, but IHT manages to do it, and do it well. As a housing developer, IHT strives to make sure homeowners can afford to maintain and retain their homes by employing energy-efficient and sustainable practices. Their beautiful properties in West Tisbury, Edgartown, and across the island are leased, sold, and maintained in partnership with the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority.
Working for IHT lets her give back, says a grateful Sophie Abrams, who feels lucky to have found a permanent home these days (and it's not in her parents' basement). As a young person building a life and a career on the Island, she has seen too many friends decide to leave the Island because they can't maintain the constant moving and high cost of living forever. There are hundreds of names on the IHT wait list for permanent homes, and with the summer rush just heating up, hundreds of temporary workers will be thrown into the mix for finding temporary housing solutions. Sophie and the team at IHT investigating solutions ranging from year-round Tiny House communities to summer dormitories to keep Island businesses staffed in the busy season.
Sophie is far from the first person I've heard thank her lucky stars to have a dependable home on Martha's Vineyard, and to be able to make a life with the ocean, the cliffs, and the forest so near. Our meeting place couldn't have better. The Little House Cafe, with its bright interior, colorful curtains, and fabulous falafel, was just the right spot to appreciate the beauty of Home.