Housing Needs Study Shows Island Aging, Poverty Rising

The Vineyard Gazette reported this week that “there are consistent problems when it comes to housing needs on the Vineyard: an affordability gap, caused by high housing prices in a largely seasonal community paired with low wages, has long made it hard for year-round residents to rent or own housing on the Island.

The article goes on to say that an updated housing report conducted by Karen Sunnarborg entitled Martha’s Vineyard Housing Needs Assessment” shows that some problems are shifting, as are potential solutions. There is increasing poverty on the Island and a rising number of older residents and single-member households, the study found, calling for an emphasis on rental units over home ownership.”

This assessment is the first of three to come, Ms. Sunnarborg said. While this first draft looks at background research and market trends, the next document will look at existing organizations that provide or produce housing on the Island. The third and final document will look at future projections, and “what organizations as well as the information in the housing needs assessment suggests are the best avenues for meeting the affordable housing agenda going forward on the Island.”

The first phase provides a look at the problem. “The Island’s average weekly wage was 71 per cent of the state average, the median home price was 54 per cent above the state’s and the median rent exceeded the state’s by 17 per cent,” the report states. “This in essence describes the Vineyard’s affordable housing problem.”

The report found that Vineyard poverty levels were lower than the state average, but poverty is nonetheless on the rise here. The numbers of individuals or families in poverty almost doubled between 1990 and 2010, and almost tripled in the case of those 65 years of age or older. Poverty levels decreased, however, for children under 18 and female-headed households with children.

The Island has declining numbers of people 24 to 44 years of age, the report said, and a dramatic increase in the number of residents between the ages of 45 and 65. There is also an increasing number of smaller households, with one-third of all households consisting of individuals living alone.

“There is a pressing need for a great number of smaller units to accommodate a growing population of small households,” the report states.  Ms. Sunnarborg said the new goal of producing 50 units of affordable housing each year “still might be too ambitious.”