Martha's Vineyard: Part 2: Habitat for Humanity

listen Hear Part 2: Habitat for Humanity

Two Cape Cods Series

For many years, Al Shackman was a session guitarist for Atlantic Records. He's worked with music legends such as Arlo Guthrie, Harry Belafonte, and Nina Simone. But despite his success, Shackman and his partner Monica Miller can't afford a year-round home on Martha's Vineyard.

Al Shackman: "Back in the days when I was doing a lot of the studio during the day mostly, and then doing the jazz at night, you were paid by the session. There were no royalties involved. That's changed over the years, but back then it didn't exist. People would think, I've played on most of the world's greatest stages. You would think everything would be set. But it didn't work that way."

For the past twelve years, Shackman, Miller and their two children have done what's called the Vineyard Shuffle. Every June, they packed up and moved all their possessions out of their winter rental in West Tisbury and spent the summer in Canada. According to Miller, it was not a good way to live.

Monica Miller: "It was incredibly stressful moving. I just felt like it was a trail of tears. I didn't want to show it, but you know, there were a lot of tears ... We made the best of it, and we had some really great times, but the absolute exhaustion of having to move all your possessions, including a lot of furniture, just got absolutely ridiculous, and it got to the point where I said to myself, I've got to do something."

Hundreds of Islanders face the same dilemma each year. Ron DiOrio, president of Habitat for Humanity on Martha's Vineyard, says year-round housing has become so unaffordable that not only is it threatening to destroy the fabric of the community, it's forcing people to live in very unhealthy ways.

Ron DiOrio: "Because we are on an island that has a great number of trophy houses and people think it's just a great place to vacation — and it is — the assumption is that everyone is living in these magnificent homes. The reality is that people have to go camping every summer. There are people living in converted garages with absolutely no bathroom or kitchen facilities. There are people who live in basements throughout the year. This is the kind of family we're providing housing to."

Thanks to Habitat for Humanity, Shackman and Miller left their winter rental for good a few weeks ago for a house on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. It's the site of the old Twin Oaks Restaurant, a building they never would have imagined they'd be living in one day.

Al Shackman: "You'd drive by and say, yuck! It was really falling down, with a blue tarp over the roof. And it was a real eye soar. We were assured that this house would never be considered. We don't have to worry about it. And indeed, that is what happened. This is the house, and what a beautiful job."

Miller and Shackman were one of forty local families who applied to Habitat for Humanity to help renovate this old restaurant and eventually live here. To even be considered for a Habitat home, a family of four must make less than $47,000 annually, as well as go through a home inspection of their current living situation. The inspection might have been what put the Miller and Shackman application at the top of the pile.

Monica Miller: "I think they saw what some of the problems were. The house is rotting into the ground. It has a shallow well. We were distilling water to drink with this Waterwise distiller, and the sludge that would come out of it was pretty serious. And the worse thing was having to move out in the summer. The house was inadequate, but adding insult to injury was having to move out of it and call that your home."

Habitat for Humanity of Martha's Vineyard has renovated four homes so far, and is about to embark on its fifth and sixth. It's progress, but the Vineyard Housing Office estimates that the housing problem requires the creation of at least 500 affordable units.

Miller and Shackman, say they were considering moving to Maine or Vermont. But now they have a new home here, one built with them by volunteers and with the help of civic-minded businesses who donated most of the building materials and mechanical works.

The family will pay Habitat $90,000 for the house, interest free. It's a happy outcome because the Martha's Vineyard community will not loose Miller, an entrepreneur, or Shackman, a world-class musician. When asked if he had a song that might express how he feels about this, Shackman turns on his old, squeaky vibraphone.

Al Shackman: "The living is easier in this house, so we'll do a little summertime."

Two Cape Cods Series