Round two of the Island Housing Production Plan begins next week

Public workshops will be held in each town to advance the cause of attainable housing on the Vineyard.

Adam Turner, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, shown here in his office in Oak Bluffs, has been meeting with Island leaders and residents in workshops designed to envision housing solutions. — Sam Moore

The second round of visioning sessions for the housing production plan (HPP) for each Island town will be held next week over the course of four nights. Although the term “visioning session” may sound more “pie in the sky” than “shovel in the ground,” these workshops are a crucial part of the HPP process, which will guide the campaign to create more affordable, moderate-income, and community housing on the Island.

Housing advocates stress that the problem is tearing the fabric of the community, and ask that home seekers and homeowners alike attend.

“Housing is an issue that affects many different facets of Island life, including the economy, the workforce that puts out fires and teaches children and works in hospitals that everyone relies on,” Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) executive director Adam Turner told The Times. “These workshops are a chance for the public and town leaders to get into substantive discussions about what goals they have for housing.”

Over the course of the three visioning sessions, townspeople and public officials will be presented with updated information, and eventually decide what housing their respective towns need and where it should be built. The HPP also seeks to balance those housing needs with the preservation of the character of each town.

At September’s workshop, attendees received a “Population and Housing Inventory,” which had updated data on housing inventory and demographic and economic trends on Martha’s Vineyard. The reports were researched over the summer and presented by Jennifer Goldson from Roslindale-based JM Goldson Community & Planning and Judy Barrett from Boston-based RKG Associates. Those reports, along with the newly completed summaries and vision statements from September’s visioning session, are currently posted on the MVC website, under “Housing Production Plan.”

Show up

Oak Bluffs planning board chairman Brian Packish said he hoped that more renters and people under 40 years old from the Island’s most populated town would show up at next week’s Oak Bluffs workshop. According to the “Population and Housing Inventory,” the Oak Bluffs’ year-round population “may grow at a rate almost three times higher than any other Island town — adding close to 1,400 year-round residents between 2010 and 2035.”

“The people in the struggle looking for the housing need to show up,” he told The Times. “We hear that they’re too busy, that they’re working two jobs to get by. That’s somewhat understandable, but all the decisions are being made by people who have houses. It’s always the same people in the room. We’re still not seeing a loud voice from the tenants and the renters and from this younger demographic that we’re attempting to create housing for. To be honest, it’s frustrating.”
Next week’s Oak Bluffs visioning session will be at the Oak Bluffs School on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 7 pm — two hours later than the September visioning session, so more people can attend. While Mr. Packish agrees that “visioning session” can sound “pie in the sky,” he said a number of solid ideas came out of the first session.

“We heard a tremendous amount of support for splitting the Land Bank tax down the middle to create a housing bank,” he said. “Other times [a housing bank] has been attempted, it’s always been an additional tax to the Land Bank tax. If we keep the cap at 2 percent and divvy it up in another way, I think we’ll find a lot of support from the people.”

Since 1986, all buyers of Martha’s Vineyard property have been required to pay a transfer fee equal to 2 percent of the purchase price to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank.

“It’ll take a lot of hard work to make that happen, but I don’t think that it’s entirely unrealistic,” Mr. Packish said. “I’m sure the Land Bank has an opinion, but we’ve preserved a whole lot of land, and it might be time to look at pushing that money in another direction.”

Peter Temple, chairman of the All-Island Planning Board affordable-housing work group and an Aquinnah resident, said he was encouraged by the visioning session attendance in the Island’s least populated town. “We had an excellent turnout. We had over 30 people, almost enough for a quorum at town meeting,” he said. “Every group talked about creating [housing] and a town center around our current town hall, where the town owns some land. The fact that we had that kind of consensus at a meeting like this was amazing. I think going through that process may help pave the way to make the types of changes that are needed to create more housing options in Aquinnah. The process worked very well. We still have a long way to go, but we’ll see how it goes at the next meeting.”

Mr. Temple said he attended all six meetings, and that overall, while attendance was lower than hoped, there was budding consensus. “People were willing to talk about the difficult issues. It’s clear that we have to do things differently if we want to address this problem.”

People who can’t attend next week’s meetings can still make their voices heard by filling out the All-Island Planning Board Housing Survey found on the Housing Production Plan webpage on the MVC website. The brief survey is also available at the Island Housing Trust website, and paper copies are at all town Councils on Aging, libraries, and various restaurants. Mr. Turner said that since the survey began in mid-October, response has been robust, with over 750 responses to date. It will be available until Thanksgiving.

“We’re really pleased with the result; this number of responses makes it statistically significant,” he said. “It’s also very helpful because it’s broken down by town.”

Mr. Turner said the HPPs can also expedite the permitting process at the MVC, which has historically been a gauntlet feared by local and off-Island builders and developers.

“Hopefully this will also make the [MVC] regulatory process much more simple,” he said. “Not every single housing development would be starting from scratch if we can find some consensus on certain things before the application comes in. If you knew that the [MVC] was amenable to development in certain locations, that would help the process. You can’t have people spending a lot of money and a lot of time evaluating something and then not have it be acceptable to the community. Then the community isn’t happy, the developer isn’t happy. We need to get more done up front. These workshops will help inform that process.”

The HPP process began this summer with $40,000 in initial funding from the MVC. Final reports will be delivered to town officials by Jan. 13, 2017. If selectmen and planning boards approve the HPPs, they will go to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for certification. Once certified, the HPPs can be used to apply for federal and state funding, as well as provide the foundation for an Island-wide HPP.

HPPs will also inform how much housing five of the six Island towns need to develop to meet the 10 percent Chapter 40B State Housing Inventory (SHI), per Massachusetts Housing and Community Development (DHCD) guidelines. Currently, Aquinnah is the only Island town that meets the 10 percent benchmark. Almost all of the inventory is federally funded housing for the Wampanoag tribe.

Housing Production Plan Workshop No. 2
Monday, Nov. 14

West Tisbury, 4 pm, Public Safety Building

Aquinnah, 7 pm, Old Town Hall (community dinner at 6:30)

Tuesday, Nov. 15

Edgartown, 5:30 pm, Menemsha Room at the Harbor View Hotel

Wednesday, Nov. 16

Oak Bluffs, 7 pm, Oak Bluffs School cafeteria

Chilmark, 7 pm, Chilmark library

Thursday, Nov. 17

Tisbury, 6 pm, Tisbury Senior Center

Housing Production Plan Workshop No. 3

Monday, Dec. 12

West Tisbury, 4 pm, Public Safety Building

Aquinnah, 7 pm, Old Town Hall (community dinner at 6:30)

Tuesday, Dec. 13

Edgartown, 5:30 pm, Menemsha Room at the Harbor View Hotel

Wednesday, Dec. 14

Oak Bluffs, 7 pm, Oak Bluffs School cafeteria

Chilmark, 7 pm, TBD

Thursday, Dec. 14

Tisbury, 6 pm, Tisbury Senior Center