Surcharge on housing
Here's a true story. No names, to protect the aspiring.
A young couple with a child needs a house. Depending on your definition, they're Islanders, not born and bred maybe, but raised and schooled here, although they've lived in other parts of the country too, even owned a house in another state. Hard workers, they thought about one of the many affordable housing programs, even tried one, but it's a long road to permission for such projects, and who knows if they'll ultimately be allowed? And what will be the cost after the regulators pile on. It's hard to wait, and the final price tag, if the project is approved, will be a whopper. Plus, it's like rent. You pay the mortgage all these years, and you realize none, or just some, of the appreciation.
So, they found a tiny lot for sale down-Island, not subsidized, and certainly not affordable, but buildable and - stretched to the limit - something they can just afford. Of course, then they've got to build a house. Then, in addition to the price of the lot, there's the Land Bank fee, maybe another $8,000 or so. That's a blow.
And now, affordable housing advocates are pressing the state legislature to create the Martha's Vineyard Housing Bank, in the form of Land Bank-like legislation that will exact a one percent fee from sellers of Island real estate.
Look down the road a bit. Our young couple, who've scraped to buy their land and pay the Land Bank fee - all on their own, mind you, without public assistance - and then worked hard to build a house, decide they'd like to move to Idaho. Maybe there's a job there. Maybe a child is heading for college in the West, and they'd like to be somewhere nearby during the college years. The house they built has grown in value, so they sell, but it's not so simple: The Land Bank reached in their pocket on the way in, and the Housing Trust will tithe them on the way out.
Meanwhile, as a report in this morning's Times explains, although real estate is selling more slowly here, and the inventory of for-sale property is rising, prices are strong and strengthening. It's Martha's Vineyard economics, and we know where it's headed.
The view here has regularly been that a variety of approaches to Island's affordable housing problem will be required. But, it is also the case that none of the well-intentioned efforts now underway will meet the growing need for decent, moderately priced housing for regular folk who do the work of a normal community. (And by the way, it is not only for their skills that we need such neighbors. We need their cultural and political contributions as well.) In addition, some of these earnest efforts, particularly those that depend upon taxes levied on those who do not choose to take advantage of subsidized housing initiatives, can work against the interests of such Islanders as the family described above. Affordable housing advocates who genuinely want to see the housing shortage corrected must find ways to encourage Island planners and regulatory officials to expand opportunities for the private sector, and particularly by 40B developers, to supply moderately priced housing. Without such efforts, all the hard work now underway to increase the stock of affordable housing is likely to miss its target.