Chilmark has long recognized the importance of affordable housing to the well-being of the town. Without housing for people who were born and raised here, without housing for those who teach our children, police our roads, build our houses, raise and catch our food, we would be a community without a future.
As far back as 1976, Chilmark was among the leaders in enacting a zoning bylaw establishing a youth lot program, aimed at enabling Chilmark youth to own and build on lots less than three acres. This successful program continues to enable many talented and contributing members of our community to remain in Chilmark.
However, youth lots may be transferred to buyers who are not eligible for affordable housing and, accordingly, are not a long-term solution to our affordable housing need. With two subsequent bylaw amendments in 2002 and 2004, the town approved a more comprehensive homesite housing program, designed to enable small lots to be permanently available to income-qualified people as either rentals or owned lots. The town’s developments for six homesite leased lots and six homesite rentals at Middle Line Road and four homesite leased lots at Nab’s Corner are significant town initiatives under these affordable housing bylaws.
However, with the recent release of the housing needs assessment by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which quantifies the continuing need for affordable housing, it is clear that Chilmark’s initiatives are but a drop in the bucket of need. To add to the problem, a second recent commission report by the Healthy Aging Task Force underscores the increasing need for housing solutions for the elderly.
Many of these people could be cared for by family or health care professionals, if only there were a place for their caregivers to live. The absence of suitable caregiver accommodation hastens the departure of the person in need to institutional facilities elsewhere — often off-Island — when there is nothing that person wants more than to remain in their own home receiving the care he or she needs.
These needs did not escape our notice, and well over a year ago, we began to consider how to increase the inventory of affordable and elder-care rentals in town. A goal was to do so without involving the town in expensive housing development but to encourage Chilmark property owners to create and offer these housing options.
Not surprisingly, these concerns are shared by other Island towns. In fact, years ago, West Tisbury enacted a bylaw that permits “accessory apartments” as affordable housing and for immediate family members. It does not, however, address the caregiver concern, something that the Chilmark housing committee (CHC) thought was important for Chilmark.
After much study, discussion, review of similar bylaw provisions, and dozens of meetings, we prepared a draft bylaw to address these needs.
We have met on many separate occasions with the planning board and its bylaw subcommittee, the building inspector, the board of health, the zoning board of appeals, the town clerk, the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, and the board of selectmen to gather input. We listened, received many comments, and incorporated them as work progressed through 19 drafts.
An informational flyer was distributed to all Chilmark landowners. Two informational meetings have been held to gain input from the public. Comments from these forums were instructive, and although the proposed bylaw has already been printed for the annual town meeting on April 27, the CHC plans to offer amendments on the town meeting floor to address these important concerns.
As a bylaw change, this article requires a two-thirds vote. It is our hope and belief that our generous, compassionate community will once more extend itself to allow the creation of some badly needed affordable rentals which will allow people who prefer to “age in place,” or who are limited for other reasons, to receive the care they need at home from a caregiver or family member living on site, and also to allow for on-site housing for family members, such as children, parents and in-laws.
Chilmark Housing Committee
Jim Feiner, chairman; Andrew Goldman, Ann Wallace, Bill Rossi, Bill Randol, Michelle Leonardi, Zee Gamson, Jessica Roddy, Roland Kluver