Planning for an Island Marshall Plan


Hopefully, by now you know that officials across Martha’s Vineyard, working with professional consultants, will hold a series of three public meetings in each town, beginning next week, to talk about the Island’s housing crisis and to develop a housing production plan (HPP) to address it.

This is an exciting and critical opportunity to address our housing needs. The implications of losing families and workforce are staggering in terms of our economy and the makeup and quality of our community.
I want to echo the comments of Tisbury planning board chairman Dan Seidman and assure Islanders that we are determined to not create more “shelfware” — a plan generated at great cost, which after much study and debate just collects dust on the shelf and never gets implemented.
The HPP will provide a strategic plan — think Marshall Plan: strategies to accomplish the specific goal of getting what Oak Bluffs planning board chairman Brian Packish described as “sticks on the ground” — his term for quickly building a significant amount of affordable housing. Brian was originally resistant to participating in the HPP process until he was convinced it would lead to specific projects and progress.
This will not be a simple or easy process, and that is why we have scheduled three professionally facilitated public meetings. Developing a HPP will force each town to address big issues about zoning, density, and wastewater, as each town determines zoning and housing policies that will shape its future, and identifies specific pieces of land and how they will be developed. For the process to succeed, the public and town leadership need to be actively involved throughout, and reach consensus.

Data is compelling
At the first meetings next week, each town will review Island-wide and town demographic and housing market trends, and collect public input on housing priorities. The data on our housing crisis is pretty compelling:

  • If you live or work here year-round and don’t already own a home, you probably can’t afford one. The current median sales price for a single-family home ranges from $644,500 in Oak Bluffs to $1,395,000 in Aquinnah. To afford those prices, you would need a household income between $170,000 and $340,000.
  • 91 percent of our year-round housing is single-family homes: The Island lacks diverse housing types which are generally more affordable (e.g., townhouses, two-family, multi-family, tiny-type houses, and mobile homes).
  • Renting is more affordable than owning on-Island, but there is a tremendous shortage of year-round units people can afford. In 2014, the median rent was $1,461 a month, and the median household income needed to afford that is just $58,440, but:

Island rents increased 24 percent between 2010 and 2014, due to a shortage of supply.

Many rental units are small or deplorable, and available only nine months a year, resulting in the personally taxing Vineyard shuffle.

Vineyard shufflers need summer housing, and this contributes to the significant shortage of seasonal workforce housing, which is vital to our economy.

  • Too many Islanders (both owners and renters) spend too much of their income on housing: 54 percent of households earning 80 percent or less of the area median spend more than 50 percent of their gross income on housing.
  • There are long lists and long waits for existing affordable elderly housing, rent-subsidized units, and affordable ownership opportunities.

The result of all this is that elders living on lower and fixed incomes don’t have downsizing options, and we are losing families and our workforce due to the price of homes and the lack of year-round rental units. The bad news is that we are projected to have more elders and lose more families and workforce.
The latest population forecasts from the Donahue Institute at UMass project that between 2010 and 2035, the Island’s population will grow 12 percent.
Of greater concern is that all of the Vineyard’s projected growth is in the 65-plus age group, which more than doubles. A growing elder population will need people to caretake for and take care of them, but our adult population, ages 20 to 64, is projected to decrease 8 percent, while kids and teens stay essentially flat (up 2%).
These are only projections, based in part on recent trends, and may not prove exact, but they indicate the direction we are heading, unless something changes or we change something. The implications will ripple throughout our community.

There are strategies
It could take as much as 1,000 units of new year-round housing to solve these problems, and that still leaves a seasonal workforce housing shortage. Even trying to build half that much will require major changes in the way we do things.
First, “smart growth” principles call for putting additional housing where density already exists. This means building in neighborhoods near shopping, jobs, and schools, with low-cost ways to get around, and connected to public sewer systems. This approach also protects our rural neighborhoods, open space, and coastal ponds from the impacts of additional development. Each town will have to examine its zoning and decide what form density takes, what it looks like, and where the town wants to put it.
Second, we need additional sources of funding. Our housing organizations and town housing committees have primarily used town land, community preservation committee funds, and philanthropy to create affordable housing and subsidized rentals. We need to find ways to tap state and federal funding and get existing homeowners, landlords, and developers to use their own funds to create more housing.
There is demand for market-rate year-round housing, both for rental and ownership, especially from elders looking to downsize and buy or rent an elder-friendly townhouse, condo, or apartment. That market demand can be used to get developers to build mixed-income year-round housing without using taxpayer dollars, like Nantucket recently did. In addition, having a HPP with preapproved development standards (including preapproval by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission) on specific lots or in certain zoning districts will make it much easier to get developers or federal and state grants to fund them.
The consultants hired by the All-Island Planning Board Housing Work Group will help each town develop strategies that will create affordable housing that fits the character of the town, meets smart growth principles, and attracts additional sources of funding.
A schedule of the meetings in each town and additional information is available in an insert in this week’s MV Times and on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission website.
I’d like to thank the members of the All-Island Planning Board Housing Work Group (which consists of a planning board and an affordable housing committee representative from each town) and the organizations that support it, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the Island Housing Trust, and the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative for all their hard work during the past nine months to get us to this point.
The rest of the hard work is up to you.

Peter Temple, chairman
All-Island Planning Board Housing Work Group