Island Housing Trust and the Onyx Group compete to develop affordable housing project.
Representatives from Island Housing Trust and the Onyx Group presented their bids to develop affordable housing in the Southern Woodlands in Oak Bluffs. During a Zoom meeting Friday, representatives of both developers presented their responses to a request for proposals (RFP) to the Oak Bluffs select board. 
IHT representatives presented their proposal with representatives from the following partner organizations for the project: Boston-based finance and development firm Affirmative Investments, Rhode Island–based architectural firm Union Studio, and real estate development and management nonprofit organization Community Builders. 
“We have been very engaged as a team on the complex phased project that we’re presenting. We believe we have a very responsive plan that’s cognizant of the site’s location,” Tara Mizrahi, executive vice president of Affirmative Investments, said. “Our site must play an important role in transitioning from individual homeowners, institutional uses, and protected open spaces while providing very beautiful homes to 60 new families.”
According to Union Studio associate Stephanie Zurek, the site will be made to both conserve land and be an area friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. The development of the duplexes and manor homes will be clustered to have minimal impact on the land, and the paths will provide connections to adjacent sites, such as the YMCA. Additionally, there will be shared green spaces, and a bus stop is planned for the area. Zurek said the plans are reminiscent of the Campgrounds in Oak Bluffs. 
“We’ve prioritized community connections, a cohesive site plan approach, and contextual architecture,” Zurek said. The plans will evolve with development and feedback from the town and residents. The site would be built in two phases, the first bringing in 25 residential units and the second phase 35 units for rent. 
IHT design development manager Derrill Bazzy said sustainability strategies will be incorporated to open doors to subsidies, rebates, and grants, alongside bringing together quality and affordability. Examples of these strategies include solar power, native planting, and protecting the Island’s coastal ponds through cooperation with KleanTu and its NitROE enhanced septic system to reduce nitrogen levels in the wastewater by up to 90 percent. Bazzy said a strong collaborative effort with the town’s boards and Oak Bluffs residents will be important to building the project. 
David Ennis, president of Affirmative Investments, said the units will be aimed toward people with low and median incomes. State funding, town grants, and IHT fundraising will be crucial to the total costs of the project, which come out to $13.4 million. Ennis said the calculations are based on Keuhn’s Way costs, which is currently being built in Tisbury. Ennis expects funding from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will make up 62 percent of the funding. Ennis said if all goes as planned, the affordable housing units can be delivered by 2025 or earlier. 
The Roxbury-based Onyx Group representatives presented a proposal with representatives from the following partner companies for the project: Cambridge-based Galante Architect Studios, Norwood-based CES Engineering, Canton-based modular home builder Avalon Building Systems, and Reading-based engineering and environmental services firm Weston & Sampson. 
“Our mission is to preserve and develop without displacement. Our focus is geared toward building quality affordable housing while providing intentional, specialized focus on equity and inclusion of local residents,” Onyx Group co-founder Chanda Smart said. “Most developers of affordable housing have never lived in it. That personal dynamic affords the Onyx Group the right lens to provide conscience-based development that focuses on the creation and nurturing of its residents and surrounding communities.”
Shabnam Mashmasarmi, a co-founder of the Onyx Group, said local knowledge, organizations, and neighbors will be consulted to make the Southern Woodlands site better fit into the fabric of Oak Bluffs. 
According to Ted Galante, founding principal of Galante Architect Studios, the plans will have a minimal impact on the land, and will create construction jobs on the Island. He said the focus is “Island-wide resiliency, not just for this site.” Galante said their approach is to build the site with a biophilic design, which he said is a way to mimic nature and integrate the site into the surrounding environment. Some of the sustainability methods include solar power, geothermal wells, and building alongside the trees that preserve many of them, and protect moth migration routes. Additionally, the surrounding roads will be renovated, and new ones built to make the site pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. 
Galante also showed a design of the proposed buildings, which displayed units that will be on short legs rather than on full foundations, in an effort to minimize the project’s ground impact. He said there will be ways to super-insulate the floors and keep wild animals from going under the house. 
“The idea is to preserve as much as we can possibly preserve,” Galante said. 
Kyle Wilton from the Onyx Group said the plan is to build the 60 units in two phases. The units will not have a single market rate, and will take into consideration income levels. Wilton said they have received pledges of financial support that total $4 million, with other funding sources available such as loans. Onyx did not provide an estimate of the project cost, but said the majority of the funding would come from Massachusetts DHCD.
Galante said it is possible to build the 60 units in one phase. 
Paul Oliveira from Avalon Building Systems said the construction will be done using modular homes. Recycled materials will be used, and labor from the local workforce will be prioritized. The modular homes will be built throughout the year, and have a smaller environmental impact. 
A question and answer session was held between the public and each team of applicants, primarily about whether there was a possibility of the renters earning homes, and more specific details about the sustainability measures, such as the geothermal technology. Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee chair Mark Leonard said these were opportunities to be informed, “not to debate anyone’s ideas.” 
The Oak Bluffs select board will evaluate each proposal and make a decision at a later date. 
What are RFPs ?
And what it the Massachusetts DHCD ?
I was wondering the same thing. It’d really be helpful to know what REP’s are.
My thoughts exactly
A RFP is a Request for Proposal which is a mechanism by which government bodies solicit bid proposals. And the DHCD Is the Department of Housing and Community Development which is the Mass state government entity empowered to finance affordable housing
Appreciate everyone chiming in, but I should point out that the DHCD is in the story on the first reference. We’ll update the story to make it clear what an RFP is. Thanks for the feedback.
Hey George,
An additional point of clarification, we intend to complete our proposal in a single phase using on island labor, transportation, and barging.
Thank you,
Kyle Wilton
The Onyx Group
1. Request For Proposal
2. Department of Housing Community Development
If the main objective is housing stability for year round residents, there should be a clear path to affordable home ownership for Island families within this development. Based on answers given at last Friday’s meeting, such a path does not exist in either developer’s plan.
Hi Johanna. Great thoughts and questions. The housing needs on the island are vast & significant and certainly must involve a path and solution to more home ownership opportunities as well as more rental opportunities. Everyone cannot afford to purchase a home; even an affordable one. Additionally, resources to allow ownership development are far fewer than for rental funding such as tax credits. It’s very complicated, but hopefully things will change to make both the path to affordable ownership and the ability for developers to build the path more widely possible. In terms of this specific RFP, the requirement was that proposals be for rental housing, not ownership. Thanks for the good thoughts and input.
Hi Johanna: The town Proposal did not allow the Developers to design for home buying opportunities. were hoping they will change that directive on the next issuance of the RFP.
If the goal is to provide affordable, stable housing for island residents and their families the Town must amend its proposal to include a clear path to home ownership. The housing crisis will not be solved with such a short sighted fix.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
Hey Johanna,
Thank you for your comments. We also share this vision for Oak Bluffs. It is our understanding that this project will be the first phase of other opportunities. I have already spoken with the Towns affordable housing director, Mark Leonard, and I’ve personally asked him to include the home ownership component to future town requests for proposal’s of affordable housing.
The Onyx Group believes in providing wealth creation opportunities and supports home ownership. Thant being said, this project will be a great first step toward this common goal.
We welcome your comments and support as we try to be the change we want to see.
For reference, a link to our proposal can also be found on the petition.
Link to Petition of support:
Thank you,
Kyle Wilton
The Onyx Group
Thank you,
Kyle Wilton
The Onyx Group
Johanna, nonsense.
Once a home is “owned” it may be resold to the highest bidder.
Why is a path to home “ownership” so important?
Home ownership is nothing more than the “right” the to rent (pay taxes) your property from the government.
The government tells you what you can do with your property.
The government can tell you when they will no longer rent “your” property to you.
Hey Albert,
Although this project was requested by the town to be rental, a path to homeownership is important for the island. Affordable rentals are also a very important need for any thriving community. More people these days are renting and need this mobility or flexibility.
Here is a good link to more information on why a path to homeownership is important:
“The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says studies have shown that “homeowners accumulate wealth as the investment in their homes grows, enjoy better living conditions, are often more involved in their communities, and have children who tend on average to do better in school and are less likely to become involved with crime.””
Thank you,
Kyle Wilton
The Onyx Group
Kyle, is this a plan to create ongoing year around rentals for the working people of the Island?
Or at some point in time will they be be sold off to the highest bidder.
Hey Albert,
Yes, our proposal is for year round affordable rental housing. We will also hold onto this and property and we do not sell. We believe in preserving all affordable housing, and maintaining it as affordable housing stock for future generations.
Thank you,
Kyle Wilton
The Onyx Group
The Island clearly needs affordable rental housing for working families.
There will never be affordable owned housing for working families.
Hey Albert,
We have worked on proposals in Boston where in the same community as mixed affordable rental housing, there were affordable home ownership options. This combined development model of mixed levels of rental affordability and affordable homeownership units can indeed coexist. We hope to bring a simular model of affordable housing to the Island on future projects.
The great part about affordable home ownership units are, the development subsidies require the home ownership units to be resold at the level of area median income which they were originally purchased, thus maintaining the level of affordability at resale.
This being said, the subsidies for affordable home ownership developments are sparse. There is work to be done on the legislative and policy side of affordable housing to better support developers with the financial ability to provide these options.
Thank you,
Kyle Wilton
The Onyx Group
Hi Don..
RFP = request for proposals
DHCD = department of housing and community development
All these acronyms are hard to keep track of….
Request for Proposal (RFP)
Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD)
Have you thought about all the extra traffic these house will cause on top of the already way to congested area? My husband drives way out of his way to get to work in Vineyard Haven to avoid the traffic jam when school starts and adjourns everyday and that’s before all the additional traffic your proposal would cause????
Hey Kristina,
Yes, this is a consideration in our proposal. This is why we have developed solid relationships with our adjacent property owners to this site. This collaboration will limit the number of curb cuts onto Edgartown-Vineyard Haven road, and better mitigate traffic congestion. We are also supportive of an additional curb cut buss stop in front of the site, to encourage our future residents to utilize public means of transportation.
We welcome your comments and support as we try to be the change we want to see.
For reference, a link to our proposal can also be found on the petition.
Link to Petition of support:
Thank you,
Kyle Wilton
(801) 888-9105
Have you thought about all the additional traffic your husband generates. because he lives and works on Island.
Will the last one in please close the door.
Keep those people out.
The island has a lot of Elderly that built the homes on the island, Born and raised here but due to injuries, or bad luck or not charging enough for their labor they cannot buy a home. They live on a Social Security Check and are homeless.
Affordable Housing by profiteers helps some, but we forget the ones that are alone or cannot work, that need help.
Hey James,
Our response to the Town of Oak Bluffs request for affordable rental housing stock reaches deep levels of affordability. We are providing a mix of units at 30%, 50%, 60%, and 80% of the area median income. We are not proposing any market rent units for this community.
Additionally, our operational and management partners offer several support services for our residents to help lift them up and support their brighter future. These are services which will only enhance with time, and serve the residents of our proposed community; The Woodlands (we decided on the name “the Woodlands:, because it represents our intent and commitment to retaining and enhancing the trees and foliage on this property, and our commitment to using design to mimic nature).
Please feel free to send me an email to continue the conversation of how we can better support those individuals who are too often forgotten,
Thank you,
Kyle Wilton
The Onyx Group
Wait a second … our high school can’t get a new football field (turf) because of the environmental concerns of the aquifer – which the field meets all state requirements, but it’s OK to place 60 units, with septic systems, right across the street?? Can’t wait to hear the science on this one.
Housing is a necessity,plastic turf is not .
There are no environmental concerns for a turf football fields.
There is a concern about the chemicals needed to make a turf football field playable more than a coupe times a year.
In keeping with what the town has asked of us we will be answering questions in our interview on Monday at 4:00. The public is invited to this session and we encourage you to attend and listen in. We’re looking forward to it!
Philippe Jordi
Island Housing Trust/Executive Director
Is there a specific “definition” of “island resident” which will determine who is eligible for this housing? I understand there are financial guidelines, but what are the guidelines beyond financial?
An Island Resident is anyone who is resident on the Island.
A rent receipt makes you a resident.
Hey Toni,
We are happy to answer any questions! The income limits are the driving factor, which is why we are proposing all of our units as affordable units ranging from 30%, 50%, 60%, and 80% of area median income. We are not proposing any market rate units.
Our property management group, Peabody Property’s has develop an affirmative fair housing marketing plan to attract potential residents. We will have a pre-lottery, pre-screening process as well as information meetings prior to opening. This will be a phased process, and we expect there will be a waitlist during the lottery and pre-screening process for our development. If we are selected, we look forward to welcoming our future residents to The Woodlands.
Additional information about our housing lottery and management plan can be found through the link on our community support page.
Onyx Group Support Page:
We welcome any additional comments and your support.
Thank you,
Kyle Wilton
The Onyx Group
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