Affordable housing has been part of the Land Bank’s planning since 1989, when it first adopted a housing policy. As a result, the Land Bank has been part of many of the affordable housing developments that are known to Islanders: Sepiessa Point in West Tisbury; Morgan Woods in Edgartown; Takemmy Path in Tisbury; Old South Road in Aquinnah; Twin Oaks in Oak Bluffs; Eliakim’s Way in West Tisbury; Nab’s Corner in Chilmark; and Kuehn’s Way in Tisbury. In each of those cases the Land Bank worked with affordable housing entities to obtain land for year-round residential development, while conserving the balance.
That represents real progress. But the Land Bank has offered to do more. Back in the 1990s, when the concept of a “housing bank” was first floated, the Land Bank offered to be the administrator of the funds. Collecting, processing, and accounting for the 2 percent transfer fee constitutes a rather large amount of the Land Bank’s administrative budget: It requires an analysis of each real estate transaction on the Island to determine the correct fee or, alternatively, the grounds for exemption. The Land Bank’s standing offer since the 1990s — if the voters and the legislature choose to add for housing purposes an extra percent or half-percent to the 2 percent — is to handle all of the administration.
The Land Bank would regularly send to the housing bank its percentage, allowing the housing bank to concentrate exclusively on spending it for affordable housing efforts.
The Land Bank would oppose any effort to dedicate a portion of the existing 2 percent for nonconservation purposes. Such a reduction would upend the Land Bank’s finances, since a meaningful portion of this 2 percent is already allocated to fixed expenses — primarily, debt service and land management.
For instance, when the town of Oak Bluffs asked the Land Bank to pay $18,909,108 to create the Southern Woodlands Reservation, the Land Bank didn’t have the cash in the bank — it had to borrow, as it did for many other properties across the Island. And funds continue to be needed to police and oversee beaches, maintain pond accesses, and keep trails open.
If some of the 2 percent were removed, only the leftover, after paying these fixed expenses, could be used for new land acquisitions. The percentages tell the story: In the most recent fiscal year, some 52 percent of the Land Bank’s revenues was spent on debt service and land management. In lean years — as recently as 2013 — the number was 83 percent.
Vineyarders need not pit conservation and affordable housing against each other. We can do both.
Mr. Lengyel is the executive director of the Land Bank.