NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Jil Matrisciano, a small business owner and mother, was in shock when she learned it takes approximately $85,163 a year for a family of three to live comfortably in the Nantucket-Dukes Counties area.
“I had to read and re-read that number, because I was completely floored it took that much money for the average family to live on Martha’s Vineyard,” she exclaimed.
An NBC study used the Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) family budget calculator to identify the most expensive areas in the country to raise a family, with Matrisciano’s hometown area of Martha’s Vineyard, MA leading at number one.
Elise Gould, EPI’s senior economist says, “Housing and childcare by far are the largest expenses, assuming you don’t have higher than average health care expenses.”
Although housing and childcare led the list, NBC factored health care, transportation and taxes to generate its top ten most expensive metro areas:
1. Nantucket-Dukes Counties, Massachusetts: $85,163
2. Washington, D.C.: $81,783
3. Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut: $79,496
4. New York City: $78,518
5. Honolulu, Hawaii: $78,423
6. Nassau-Suffolk, New York: $78,301
7. Arlington-Alexandria, Virginia: $78,094
8. San Francisco: $77,819
9. Boston: $77,466
10. Westchester, New York: $75,992
Housing Shortage Reaches Critical Mass in #1 Area
Compounding heightened expenses in these areas is the lack of basic necessities families require and depend upon most.
Often regarded as a top vacation destination for the rich and famous, both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are a dichotomy of sorts. “People come to the island to get away from the hectic pace of life,” Matrisciano says. “What seasonal residents and vacationers don't know or see is that the people who keep this island functioning and provide the services they seek are the ones who struggle the most.”
Matrisciano owns Rise Vineyard Performing Arts dance studio, and her husband is a home builder. She has lived on Martha’s Vineyard for 20 years and experienced the sting of what many hard-working families endure, called “the Vineyard shuffle.”
“The lack and expense of housing presents a significant problem to the vast number of families trying to make a living on the island,” she explains. “Rent is high, and the number of seasonal rentals outnumber homes that are offered for rent on a year round basis. Families may often secure a rental during the winter months but have to vacate in May or June once season begins because owners can command a significantly higher rent on a weekly basis. This ‘shuffle’ presents an ongoing hardship that I have experienced and have seen a number of my dance families endure year after year.”
As one who understands the struggle to make ends meet, Matrisciano says once rent, food, childcare and health care bills are paid, many families may not have enough money leftover in the budget to pay for enrichment activities like dance. “I know from personal experience that finding ways to pay for dance can be challenging,” she says. “This is why I created the ‘Rise Above Access’ scholarship program that may help fill in the financial gap our island families may experience.”
She recalls this past year when three families, whose children attend her studio had nowhere to live when their lease expired. “Their options were exhausted,” she says. She adds that sometimes families will live in tents or bunk with friends until they can secure another lease.
Two years ago Matrisciano, and her husband purchased a home before prices soared. “We scraped and saved, making the necessary updates and repairs to the home ourselves," he says.
Organizations Help Families Fill the Housing Gap
“Couch surfing is not uncommon on the Vineyard,” explains Phillipe Jordi, executive director for the Island Housing Trust. “You have to be resourceful, creative and always thinking ahead if you want to live here.”
The Island Housing Trust was established ten years ago to address the lack of affordable housing on the island. “Our goal is to find families that 12-month lease, but the reality is often a nine month lease. Homeowners want the year-round tenant out in the summer, then our families have a hard time trying to create stability during the three months they are searching for housing.”
Thus far Island Housing Trust has sold and rented over 70 homes and apartments to low and moderate-income island families with the goal of doubling the annual rate from 70 to 180 by 2020. Jordi says that his organization works with island towns and other housing organizations to establish housing for full-time residents.
Habitat for Humanity is also a viable solution for families earning less than 60% of the area median income. “On average, we build one house a year, utilizing volunteer labor and materials,” says Margo Urbany-Joyce, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Martha's Vineyard. “We work closely with the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority and Island Housing Trust to create affordable housing on Martha’s Vineyard.”
Urbany-Joyce says the lack of affordable housing for island residents has reached crisis proportions and expresses concern over the ultimate impact this will have to the tony island’s economy.
“Housing for seasonal business employees was particularly difficult this summer,” she reveals. “If this trend continues, businesses, hospitals and island services will be understaffed and prices will rise in order to attract workers. These two issues coupled together will discourage visitors from spending money here, which will crater the island economy. Although housing prices will fall, without jobs, housing will still be unaffordable for the typical year round Martha’s Vineyard resident.”
Childcare Rates Are Higher
Sara Stekloff, a mother and former barre instructor, has found childcare prices to be loftier in her area of Alexandria, Va. “We’re not talking about private, exclusive preschools, but smaller, often church-based preschools that are both expensive and difficult to find space,” she says.
The mother of a three-year old daughter says that when she compares preschool expenses with friends from her hometown in Plantation, Fla. she can see a distinct difference. “Not only do rates seem higher, but my friends with pre-school aged children aren’t dealing with the number of pre-school waiting lists the moms in the Alexandria, and D.C. area are trying to field,” she says.
A recent Child Care of America study found that the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in center-based care ranges from $5,496 in Mississippi to $16,549 in Massachusetts. For an infant in a family child care home the cost ranges from $4,560 in Mississippi to $10,727 in New York. For a 4- year-old, center-based care ranges from $4,515 in Tennessee to $12,320 in Massachusetts. Care in a family child care home for a 4-year-old ranges from $4,039 in South Carolina to $9,962 in New York.
Stekloff sends her daughter to preschool three mornings per week and pays approximately $400 a month. “I have friends who need full-time care and it isn’t uncommon to hear that expenses can soar up to $50,000 a year.”
Indeed, location can make or break how expensive childcare and early education programs are. Matrisciano’s childcare expenses are similar to Stekloff’s as she estimates spending approximately $5,000 a year for her son to attend preschool three mornings a week.