Conservation and affordable housing: Martha's Vineyard can have both


To the Editor:

In response to Mr. Lengyel’s essay in the Dec. 20 Vineyard Gazette [which also appears in this week’s MVTimes]: “We can have both affordable housing and land conservation” : Everyone on Martha’s Vineyard is extremely grateful the Land Bank has been so remarkably successful in protecting land for the past 30 years, and has been part of many affordable housing developments as far back as the 1990s. And although the Land Bank did suggest as far back as the 1990s that there should be legislation to add 0.5 percent to the current 2 percent collected from a real estate transaction, it hasn’t happened for the past 20 years. Some say it is not possible because of the real estate lobby.

I agree with you: “Vineyarders need not pit conservation and affordable housing against each other. We can do both.”

Please read the following quote from the Island Housing Trust website: “Over the past nine years we have sold and rented over 70 homes and apartments … Our goal is to double the annual rate … by 2020.” That means over the past nine years, the rate is about 7 homes per year, and the goal is to get it up to approximately 14 per year, or some say as much as 20 to 25 per year.

At the same time I’m told the estimate of affordable houses needed is at least 500 dwellings. Some say as many as 650 dwellings. At the current rate, we won’t reach that goal for as many as 93 years, and with the best-case scenario, we reach that goal in 30 years. Based on these numbers, one could believe it’s somewhere in between — say 50 or 60 years. In the meantime, we are constantly losing individuals and families we need for diversity and as a workforce including, but not limited to, young families, teachers, nurses, landscapers, and carpenters — because they can’t afford decent housing on the Vineyard.

Since the Land Bank can’t manage without all its income, we need to look elsewhere for land acquisition. This is why I suggest all the other conservancies collectively consider releasing 200 acres (less than 1 percent of what is in conservancy) in small parcels that are carefully selected because they are used neither very much or at all, and design smart, affordable houses clustered together.

With approximately 24,000 acres currently in conservation, the odds are great that releasing less than 1 percent would not harm the total aggregate or the ecology. And let’s not forget, approximately one-third of the Island, nearly 20,000 acres, is still undeveloped, so there is a great deal still available for more conservation. This is not pitting conservation against affordable housing. Instead, it is collectively stepping back, taking an overview and re-evaluating our plan for the future so we are successful when it comes to both conservancy and an economically diversified population. I agree with you: We can do both. We are bountiful and just need to collectively explore new ideas as to how to reshuffle the deck.

Paul Lazes
Vineyard Haven