Nantucket affordable-housing transfer fee faces uphill battle

Straight Wharf Street in Nantucket. — Sam Moore

Nantucket community leaders on Tuesday pressed legislators to support a proposed real estate transfer fee without which, they said, the island year-round economy and its ability to provide basic services could vanish, according to the State House News Service.

The proposal, legislation (H 4317) approved at this year’s town meeting, would establish a 0.5 percent surcharge on the difference above $2 million of any sale of property over $2 million, to be paid by the seller. That money would go into a trust fund that Nantucket officials said would be used to increase the stock of affordable housing on the island. Opponents argued the charge would only drive home prices higher as the entire state deals with a shortage of affordable housing.

“The housing crisis on Nantucket is challenging and threatening our ability to provide basic public safety services on the island,” Jim Kelly, chairman of the Nantucket board of selectmen, said. “It also threatens the viability of having a long-term, year-round community on Nantucket.”

Janet Schulte, executive director of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce, said the island’s economy is driven primarily by tourism and vacation homes, which account for 64 percent of the island’s 11,000 houses.

“Each second home requires seven to nine people to keep it going throughout the year. That’s a lot of jobs on Nantucket,” she said. “That economy and our community is in danger because there is no place to house those workers. The basis of the sound economy and a thriving community is the presence of a reliable, well-trained, and available workforce and their families.”

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors spoke in “strong opposition” to the bill, saying that while there is no question Nantucket and many other communities need more affordable housing, “creating a new tax is not the answer.”

“The legislation would single out homebuyers and sellers to pay for something that should be taken on by the entire community,” Annie Blatz, MAR president, said. “The proposal is inherently inequitable and discriminatory, as it would single out this small segment of the population, specifically home sellers, to pay for a community-wide need and responsibility.”

With a median home sale price of roughly $1.8 million, Nantucket Realtor David Callahan said, adding a fee on top of the 2 percent Land Bank fee that homebuyers already pay would drive prices even higher.