Thomas Bena,
Founder of the Martha's
Vineyard Film Festival,
Chilmark, Massachusetts 


“As available housing stock is used for large seasonal homes, people argue that the big houses don't affect affordability. While I agree on one level, I completely disagree on another. 

I agree, large houses don't cause the affordable housing problem, but gentrification does, and large seasonal homes are part of gentrifying a community. So yes, I do think there is a direct link between large seasonal homes (and seasonal homes in general) to the affordable housing problem. In Chilmark, the town where I live, 75% of the homes are seasonal. How can the remaining homes be affordable if there is such a high demand? They can't.  

I believe that a community determines its own destiny. If we use the democratic process to create bylaws that serve our needs, we are working to directly affect our future. Whether we limit house size or zone for affordability, or both, the choice is ours.”

Briefly describe the situation in your area.

I live on Martha’s Vineyard. In the summer it is a very crowded resort area. The rest of the year it is relatively quiet. I’ve only lived here for 21 years and I’ve seen change that deeply concerns me. The lack of affordable housing threatens to destroy the fabric of our year-round community, and the scale of large summer homes threatens to destroy the rural character of our towns.

What are you working to protect?

I’m motivated to protect the sense of community, and the rural character.

What is the biggest obstacle you face?

I think we need more community forums for thoughtful discussion and debate...places where that is not only welcomed, but desired.

Is there a leader of your group or is it led by committee?

I started the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, and produced and directed my documentary film, One Big Home. So I’m the leader of those projects, but not a dictator—I ask for a lot of help and advice.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned since you started working on this issue?

To realize that I get to have a voice—not because I’ve lived here the longest, not because I’m the smartest person in the room, but because I live here, I vote here, this is my home.