To the Editor:
Affordable housing on Martha’s Vineyard is the invisible backbone of our Island community, and desperately needs our attention. Almost anything you love about the Vineyard is protected, maintained, or made possible by the people who live here year-round. Yet there is very little to ensure that our year-round population — our workforce — has stable housing. Stability is the key element (missing in housing here). Almost one-third of the Vineyard population moves at least twice a year. All people in our community need and deserve stable housing. Everyone who lives here by the week, month, or year benefits from stability. We, as a community, need a viable solution to creating sustainable funding to offset the high cost of living here. I support the Housing Bank using the rental tax to fund it, and believe it is critical and mandatory to the long-term stability of the people who live and work on M.V. Why? Because nothing else to date has provided a long-term solution to this Island-wide problem.
Band-Aid funding in the form of benevolent donations will not sustainably support the steady and growing need for housing opportunities, today and in the future. With over 100 nonprofits competing for money on Martha’s Vineyard, the source of donations is diluted, inconsistent, and unreliable. There is too much pressure on the wealthy donors of Martha’s Vineyard to give. Affordable housing needs a consistent and dependable yearly income stream. Many bright minds have toiled away, pondering a good solution to a pervasive problem. Using a portion of the new “Airbnb” short-term rental tax is the BEST solution we have. Most important, it’s not taxing the people who live here, but is a tax paid by vacation renters, just as hotels tax their patrons. It offsets the collateral damage of a good rental industry.
The Housing Bank would directly benefit our police, teachers, EMTs, nurses, mechanics, builders, painters, and everyone who keeps our Island running smoothly. It would protect and benefit your friends and co-workers and mine, who are the infrastructure we depend upon. The economic engine of M.V. needs its people, and the people need support.
So what are we going to do? We can’t turn back the clocks. Do we ask towns to change zoning and create higher-density areas where we can lump larger groups of dwellings? Do we allow multilevel and multifamily buildings and condos? Do we incentivize developers to do community-focused 40 Bs? Frankly, having worked on affordable housing solutions for almost 20 years, I have seen how much towns and people of M.V. loathe change. But change is the only mechanism for progress, and a fully funded Housing Bank creates a host of opportunities. Who would benefit from the Housing Bank?
- 200-plus families on the rental waiting list at Dukes County Regional Housing Authority (DCRHA)
- 300-plus families registered with the DCRHA looking to buy a home
- A large number of people who do not register for housing lotteries and such, but are still in need of stable housing
- 100 to 200 elderly people who earn 50 percent and under of AMI (area median income), who no longer can afford to live here on a fixed income and are seeking other housing options
- An untold number of elderly people who have too much money to qualify for Island Elderly Housing (where there is no room anyway), who cannot find a solution, and may have to leave M.V. against their wishes
- Young families who want to be able to stay on Martha’s Vineyard
- The future generations of Vineyarders who will be priced out of the housing market
Our housing crisis is directly related to the rental market. The high cost and value of our summer rental industry, estimated at 250-plus million dollars per year, is driving this problem. Many homes that used to be year-round rentals are now rented for only a few months. The winter rental options are now much more expensive and scarce than they used to be. A fully funded affordable Housing Bank will:
- Help to subsidize year-round rentals, which give people security. Some towns do this already with CPA funds, but we need more.
- Support workforce housing initiatives to buy or build year-round homes that support the business community
- Reclaim low-end housing that ends up in foreclosure
- Increase year-round rental units owned by nonprofit housing agencies
- Support elderly initiatives to help people age on Martha’s Vineyard
- Provide funding for solutions not yet imagined
I support creating a Housing Bank that can use these funds to remedy the housing crisis, foster new initiatives, and create hope for the people who want to call Martha’s Vineyard home. The key is the funding, and using the tax is the answer. It’s the first and only real long-term viable solution I have seen in my 20 years working on housing solutions. Let’s use the rental tax to fund a Housing Bank and support the Vineyard community for today, tomorrow, and the future.
Jim Feiner, chair
Chilmark Housing Committee