Longtime OB residents grapple with residency requirements
With an available cluster of affordable housing lots tantalizing some Oak Bluffs residents, many longtime locals had their hopes dashed when they read the restricting residency requirements outlined in the application.
Although resident homesite committee chairman Jim Rankin encouraged people to apply, even if they were unsure if they met the five-year minimum residency requirement, many are worried about their fate in the upcoming August lottery.
According to the application, available at Oak Bluffs municipal offices, an eligible candidate must be a resident of Oak Bluffs for at least five years, with one of those years current. Applicants can enter into any of the six lotteries their residency or employment status permits.
As first-time homebuyers, most applicants are renters who have had to move all over the Island to find affordable housing, thus limiting the time they have lived in Oak Bluffs.
"That's a town bylaw so we have to wrestle with that," said Jack Law, a member of the resident homesite committee. He said approximately 150 applications had already been handed out, well before the July 14 deadline.
Mr. Law and other members of the committee fielded questions from concerned residents with a wide-ranging selection of specific situations, at an informational meeting last Thursday.
David Vigneault, director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, said residency was the main question coming into his office regarding the resident homesite lots.
Trying to meet the
Damien Harris, a police officer in Oak Bluffs, grew up in the town and spent 31 years as a resident.
But due to the high cost of homes on the Island, Mr. Harris and his wife Cherish have been renters for many years. When the couple heard about the resident homesite lots late last year, they grew excited about the prospect of owning a home in Mr. Harris's hometown.
"My wife and I had been doing the 'winter shuffle,'" Mr. Harris said of constant moves throughout the seasons.
In September the Harrises had a baby. "We were wiling to deal with some places that certainly weren't the nicest or the prettiest when it was just the two of us," Mr. Harris said. "But when she came along we figured we needed a year-round place."
The couple was eager to apply, but when they read the firm residency requirements, they became concerned.
Although Mr. Harris has 31 documented years in the town - well above the 5-year minimum requirement, and the 20-year upper-tier requirement - the couple moved to Edgartown last November because they were unable to find an affordable rental in Oak Bluffs.
"At first we didn't think it was going to be too big of a deal," Mr. Harris said. But as they closely read the condition, and learned it was a town bylaw, the couple became worried because they are not currently town residents, which the application requires.
Mr. Harris has been a municipal employee for eight years, immediately qualifying him for the first two lotteries, which give preference to town workers. If the couple lived in Oak Bluffs today, they would qualify for all six lotteries, giving them an enormous edge over other applicants.
Mr. Rankin said Thursday that extenuating cases, such as the Harris's, might be considered eligible, even though they do not fit specifically with the town bylaw. The committee said they understand that as first-time homebuyers, applicants have a history of moving in and out of town.
Mr. Harris said the couple has submitted their application but is unsure of their status. "This lottery is important not just to us but to the Island, to keep the Islanders here," Mr. Harris said.
Other Island towns require less
Mr. Vigneault said residency requirements vary with the different Island affordable housing projects.
For example, he said West Tisbury gave away four affordable lots last year, three going to people with one year of residency in the town, the last to another Island applicant.
In the past in Tisbury, some pools were designated with "local preference," while the rest were Island-wide, he said.
In terms of the stalled Middle Line Road affordable housing project in Chilmark, selectman Warren Doty said that preference would be given to town residents, employees, and volunteers. Although it is not required, he said resident homesite guidelines indicate five years working or living in the town is preferable. "The voters at town meeting intend it to be for Chilmark people, and we will try to do that," Mr. Doty said. A good example of an applicant, he said, would be a volunteer firefighter who had worked in the town for five years, but had not had the opportunity to reside there.
Julie Willett, the executive director of Vineyard Habitat for Humanity, said their program has no residency requirements, and that the final decision is based on need. "We are an Island, and we are all in the same boat, so to speak," Ms. Willett said. "As long as they are able to buy land legally, they qualify with us."
The Oak Bluffs resident homesite project does not restrict applicants due to legal status. Mr. Rankin said the committee explored that issue in one of their previous meetings, and agreed they would not make it a qualification.
But Tammy King, a mortgage originator with Martha's Vineyard Co-op Bank, said most Island lenders would not take the risk of lending to an illegal alien. "If you go to foreclose or demand payment, what's to stop them from leaving the country?" she said.
Although, Ms. King pointed out, the resident homesite deed rider does not restrict applicants from going off Island to pursue loan options, where she said she has heard of lenders who loan to illegal citizens.
"It is possible, but not probable," that a person without legal status or a green card could obtain one of the Oak Bluffs affordable properties, Ms. King said.
Mr. Rankin said the committee is sympathetic to people who are struggling with the outlined prerequisites. "Every town has struggled with the issue of honesty in this process because it is so desirable," he said. "And we want to keep people honest."
The other conditions, such as qualifying as a low- to moderate-income applicant and first-time homeowner, don't appear to be a hurdle for residents.