YARMOUTHPORT — In 20 years as head of Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod, Vicki Goldsmith of Harwich has seen political and public support for affordable housing ebb and flow. But as she looks forward to her retirement in December, Goldsmith is as optimistic as ever.
“There’s been such an upsurge in energy from the towns,” she said. More towns have established housing trusts to help them purchase property when it becomes available, and the Community Development Partnership’s housing institute has generated “so much goodwill and interest,” Goldsmith noted. When it comes to finding money for housing initiatives, “Community Preservation Committee funds have become a game-changer,” she added.
Goldsmith said she is stepping down in part to make room for younger leaders with new ideas, but if she’s lost any of her energy and enthusiasm for her job, you wouldn’t know it. She’s clearly proud of her volunteers and staff and the progress Habitat has made in making home ownership attainable for local families.
Her first experience in public housing was managing the Captain Eldredge House in Hyannis for the Barnstable Housing Authority. “That’s when I learned that I love housing, but I shouldn’t go any further with social work,” Goldsmith said. In 1986, she took a job with the Orleans Housing Authority at what was an exciting time. The group was preparing to build a 10-unit development at John Avellar Circle, and was coordinating with churches and other organizations on specialty housing for people with mental health problems or addictions. Rather than state officials handing down mandates, the local community was coming forward with innovative ideas and the state helped pay for them.
“That was very exciting and lovely,” she said.
Then by the end of the 1990s, “the funds just dried up,” Goldsmith recalled. Her job at the Orleans Housing Authority became more about property management than about creating housing. She found herself voicing her frustration at a housing meeting after having had a particularly challenging day, and one of her peers—a board member for the new Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod—invited her to apply for the group’s executive director position. It was not just their first full-time paid executive; the job was the group’s first full-time paid position.
Goldsmith was hired in 1999 and was immediately stunned by what volunteers had accomplished. When she took the helm, the nonprofit was planning construction of its 19th affordable home. (Today, the group, its volunteers and new home owners are responsible for having built 135 homes throughout the 15 towns on the Cape.)
Just as it was when it was first created, Habitat represents a unique faith-based approach to affordable housing. After a thorough screening process, families are chosen for homes and then volunteer to help build them. Once they pay off their affordable mortgage, they own the property.
“Everything was simpler then,” Goldsmith recalled. Code compliance was simpler and Habitat focused on building one or two houses a year, all funded through private donations, with the group itself serving as the lender for its homebuyers’ mortgages. In 2011, the organization began using affordable USDA mortgages in most Cape Cod towns, and “that was one of our capacity game-changers,” Goldsmith said.
The organization continues to focus on its volunteers, who come from all backgrounds and include both specialized professionals and “good-spirited generalists,” she said. The role of Habitat’s staff is generally “to set everybody else up for success, Goldsmith said. “They want their time to be well used.” The organization has always had strong volunteer retention, she added.
In 2011, Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod opened its Re-Store in Yarmouth, which has been a key source of revenue, Goldsmith said. Last year, the group opened a second Re-Store in Falmouth.
Habitat has begun the search for its next executive director, with Goldsmith expected to step down at the end of the year. What will she do in retirement?
“I’m a person who appreciates the little things in life” like spending time outdoors, playing the flute, and spending time with her grandson, who will be four this summer. Goldsmith said she’s looking forward to having less on her plate, and while she will probably want to remain active as a volunteer, “I may really change it up from housing,” she said. Habitat has the benefit of great board members and skilled volunteers, and is financially sound.
“I’m leaving Habitat in a strong place, in a happy place,” Goldsmith said.
This article has been corrected to indicate that Goldsmith was Habitat's first full-time director. Before that, the group had several part-time directors. We regret the error.