Why care about housing?


By Daniel Seidman, All-Island Planning Board housing work group

Why should you care about housing if you have acquired your piece of Martha’s Vineyard? Or locked down a 12-month lease you can afford? You did it, why can’t everyone else? If you need to work multiple jobs, so be it. It was a struggle, but you made it.

Well, times change. Remember the song “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads? The lyric goes, “Well, how did I get here?” And the answer is “Letting the days go by.”
The more time passes, the more expensive this Island becomes. Two facts about this rock. One, it is a second-home market. Chilmark is 76 percent seasonal. Less than one in four reside year-round. Two, it is a world-known tourist destination that causes the population to swell during the summer months. Island-wide, more than half of our residential properties are occupied with part-timers or visitors.
Unless we fill in Vineyard Sound, the Island is not gaining any more land. It might be accreting some sand at Dogfish Bar in Aquinnah, but it is eroding around the edges elsewhere. And so is our population of workers, like grains of sand, going back into the sea. If housing is not available here, the ferry is their shuttle to shelter. Problem solved, right?
No. Imagine a circuit fails in your house: Do you want the electrician riding the waves to get here? Or a pipe bursts, and the plumber states, “Sorry, can’t get a boat.” Perhaps, after a surgery, you must go off-island for physical therapy.
The Island shuffle is a term many understand. Shelter is a need for all strata of society. Should you be entitled to live here? No, that goes against our idea of freedom. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is what the Founding Fathers thought was essential to life. Yet without a roof over your head, a stable domicile, how does one achieve those unalienable rights?
To determine a path forward on the housing front, all the towns came together — selectmen, planning boards, affordable housing committees, and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission — to fund the creation of a Housing Production Plan (HPP) for each town. An HPP is a working document, a detailed blueprint for creating more housing.
An HPP will force us to address some big issues about zoning, density, and wastewater. Public input and consensus are needed. To do this, your town will have a series of three workshops. Each workshop builds on the prior one. First, housing vision, next, development of goals, and last, development of strategies. Find the dates for your town at mvcommission.org/housing-production-plan and put them on your calendar. Each HPP is per town, as the solutions are not necessarily the same for all areas.
No one will show us the way; we need to make the way. How? Exercise your right to speak, to demand change, to vote for change. If you don’t participate, then don’t complain if things remain the same.
We control our destiny with housing.

Mr. Seidman is chairman of the Tisbury Planning Board and a member of the housing work group. —Ed.