Edgartown will sell three half-acre lots in housing lottery

The lots, priced at $75,000, carry a 10-year deed restriction against resale that one affordable housing advocate called “unconscionable.”

This photo shows the approximate location of the lots Edgartown plans to sell for housing. — Google Earth

In what is described as a “community housing opportunity,” Edgartown plans to sell three buildable half-acre lots of town-owned land for $75,000 to a pool of qualified applicants who will be chosen by lottery. The lots will be subdivided from a town-owned 1.6-acre parcel off Sixth Street North, just off Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road.

To qualify for the lottery, applicants must be able to prove that they have lived or worked in Edgartown for the past five years. They must be either a first-time homeowner, or reside in an existing home that is within the Edgartown affordable housing inventory, or be a “displaced homemaker,” which is defined as a spouse or member of a household who is dependent on someone else’s income.

Household income for applicants cannot exceed 150 percent of the area median income (AMI) for Dukes County. For two people, that’s a combined income ceiling of $101,550. Town water and electric are included in the purchase price. The lots are limited to two-bedroom houses unless enhanced septic systems are installed. The lots come with a 10-year deed restriction, after which the property owners would be able to sell the house at fair market value. In recent years, Island housing organizations and towns have placed deed restrictions on the resale of affordable housing lots to ensure long-term affordability. For example, the winners of the Nab’s Corner lottery in Chilmark signed a 99-year ground lease to ensure the permanent affordability of the property.

The sale of the town-owned lots was approved at town meeting several years ago, according to chairman of the selectmen Margaret Serpa.

Selectman Art Smadbeck said a small committee will thoroughly review all applications. The requirements have changed since the town first advertised in The Times on Sept. 15. Initially, the income qualification, now set at 150 percent of AMI, was a maximum attainable mortgage of $600,000 per household. “I’m not sure where that came from,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “There were a lot of hands in this.”

Mr. Smadbeck said the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority (DCRHA), which often manages affordable housing lotteries, is not involved. “It would be difficult for [DCRHA], because they run under different rules and regulations,” he said.

Restriction objection

Doug Ruskin of West Tisbury, board member of the Island Housing Trust (IHT) and Edgartown property owner and taxpayer, is not happy about the lottery criteria.

“As a taxpayer, I see red,” he said. “I find it unconscionable that the town would sell assets at what I think is a 60 to 80 percent discount and then someone gets a windfall profit 10 years in the future. It’s patently unfair.”

A 0.6-acre abutting lot that fronts Seventh Street is worth $251,000, according to the Edgartown assessor’s property cards.

Mr. Ruskin also questioned where the Edgartown affordable housing committee was in the mix. “Who’s going to conduct the lottery?” he said. “Why isn’t the affordable housing committee running it? My understanding is that they washed their hands of it.”

Edgartown affordable housing committee chairman Mark Hess corroborated Mr. Ruskin’s statement.

“Affordable housing doesn’t have anything to do with it,” he said. “That’s the town’s deal, not ours.”

“I may be biased because of my attempts to create affordable housing when I lived in Edgartown, and getting less than enthusiastic support,” Mr. Ruskin said. “It was 10 years ago, all the same selectmen. They don’t change down there. What they’re doing may be legal, but it’s hardly fair and it’s hardly transparent.”

The requirement that all applicants must live or work in Edgartown is also objectionable, in Mr. Ruskin’s view. “I view the Island as a single community,” he said. “We’re not that big where a town should be putting up figurative walls. If it were up to me, I’d say the lot has to be affordable in perpetuity, open to all Islanders, with Edgartown preference.”

He said qualifying residents of Edgartown could be given “local preference” by putting those applications in a local pool which is drawn from first.

Dukes County Regional Housing Authority executive director David Vigneault said he wasn’t aware of the Edgartown land auction until he saw an ad in The Times two weeks ago.

“It isn’t an affordable housing offer, so we are not involved, same as the Edgartown affordable housing committee,” he said. “The board of selectmen have posted different parameters that we’re not familiar with. I hope they’re clear on the legalities.”

Mr. Vigneault said the brevity of the 10-year deed restriction would not qualify as low or moderate housing according to the state and federal criteria under which DCRHA operates.

For the working class

Mr. Smadbeck, an experienced real estate agent and the owner of Priestley, Smadbeck and Mone real estate agency, said the 10-year deed restriction is a remnant of the former resident homesite committee. “We’re not inventing anything new or doing this differently than we used to do it,” he said. “The reason for the 10-year restriction is so younger people, who are giving to this community, are not made second-class citizens. When my kids were going to college, I could get a mortgage and pay the tuition. We’re saying, You’re willing to give your life to us, this is a little bit of help we’re able to do. If the value of the property goes up, that’s how it should be, that’s real estate. No one is making a killing. If we put a permanent deed restriction on the lot, they can’t get a mortgage to send their kids to college.”

Mr. Smadbeck said the lottery is a way to help three working-class families attain ownership, an increasingly difficult prospect on the Island. “We have an organization using public funds to take land off the market,” he said, referring to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. “We have [the Martha’s Vineyard Commission] that has greatly restricted and pretty much opposed any kind of housing development. That artificially drives up the value of the land. If you recognize that we are part of that problem, then I think we have a responsibility to try and level the playing field.”

Mr. Smadbeck said the affordable housing efforts have focused on those with low incomes, 80 percent of AMI and lower, which leaves a big gap for middle-class families who make too much to qualify, but don’t make enough to purchase property.

“This is for working-class people who are working for our benefit — our police officers, teachers, people who work at the hospital,” he said. “Can we take care of everybody? No, that’s why there’s a lottery. We’re doing the best we can. We’re hoping when the smoke clears we’ll have three happy people who are contributing members of our community.”
M. Smadbeck said future “workforce housing” lot lotteries may be in the offing. “We’re testing the waters to see what the demand is,” he said.

Mr. Smadbeck said the feedback about the auction has been positive, across the board. “I haven’t heard anything from anyone in Edgartown except ‘This is a great idea.’” he said. “And by the way, the voters approved this. I’m very happy about it.”

Applications for the lottery can be obtained by calling the selectmen’s office at 508-627-6180. The deadline for applications is Nov. 15.