Tisbury selectmen approve funds for housing study

The Morgan Woods affordable rental housing development in Edgartown, completed in 2007, was the Island's last major housing project. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Despite misgivings about the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s (MVC) role in funding an Island-wide housing needs assessment study, the Tisbury selectmen voted Tuesday to contribute $2,700 towards it.

MVC staff member Christine Flynn returned to make a second appeal to the selectmen, after they deferred action on her request at their June 28 meeting. She again emphasized that the Island’s Joint Affordable Housing Committee (JAHC) requested the study, not the MVC.

The study’s purpose is to provide updated data on affordable housing on Martha’s Vineyard, which is a critical requirement for applying for state and federal grants, she said.

The JAHC requested that the Island towns split the $30,000 cost of hiring a private consultant to do the study with funds from their municipal affordable housing trusts, Ms. Flynn said.

The MVC agreed to contribute $7,800, and the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Fund $6,000, which would lower each town’s share to $2,700, if all participated. But, the Edgartown selectmen voted June 13 not to fund the study. They said the Island towns already give the MVC sufficient money and that the study should have been included in the regional planning agency’s Island Plan. The Island towns all contributed funds towards the MVC’s multi-year planning effort for the Island Plan, a blueprint for Martha’s Vineyard’s growth and development for the next 50 years.

Tisbury’s MVC assessment in the current fiscal year is $115,699.

Ms. Flynn said studies such as the housing assessment would be helpful in implementing the Island Plan’s planning strategies.

Although Tisbury’s housing committee recommended the town contribute $4,000 toward the study, the Tisbury selectmen followed Edgartown’s lead and voted on June 28 to write to the commission to take on and fund the study.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, selectman Tristan Israel said an email from MVC executive director Mark London in response to their letter was “really round-about and didn’t address the question.”

Selectman Jeff Kristal asked whether nonprofit organizations that use the housing study’s data, such as Martha’s Vineyard Community Services or Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, had been asked to contribute.

Ms. Flynn said since she and the JAHC work with the towns and not nonprofit organizations, they felt it was more appropriate to solicit funds from the towns.

Despite Ms. Flynn’s explanation that the MVC was only involved as a contributor, Mr. Kristal said the housing study is “being driven by MVC, no matter what.” He objected to what he said is an annual pattern.

“The MVC gets money every year and then always jumps in with requests for more money after the budget process,” Mr. Kristal said.

Selectman Tristan Israel said although he agreed with Mr. Kristal, he didn’t want to jeopardize plans by groups such as Island Elderly Housing that require the study’s data.

“I’m waffling because of the elderly piece of this,” Mr. Israel said. “I’m trying to weigh the pros and cons. I would be more comfortable if all the towns participated.”

Selectman chairman Geoghan Coogan said similar housing studies have been done before but fail to come up with a plan to address the needs.

“Where is the land coming from, what kind of housing could we build?” he said. “It’s need, need, need — I want to see more about how we take what we’ve got and what we can do with it.”

He voted in favor of a motion by Mr. Israel to contribute $2,700 towards the study. Mr. Kristal voted against it.

Mr. Israel reminded Ms. Flynn that regardless of whether Edgartown contributes toward the study or not, she would only get $2,700 from Tisbury.

“I’ll take whatever I can get,” she said with a smile.

Ms. Flynn said she would meet with Oak Bluffs and Chilmark affordable housing trust committees at the end of the month to ask for funds for the study. Aquinnah’s participation in the study is also uncertain, due to the postponement of a special town meeting this week due to a lack of a quorum.