Clearing up Housing Bank confusion

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In response to recent reporting on various meetings and the letter written to our state representatives by the Oak Bluffs selectmen, the Housing Bank MV (HBMV) campaign would like to provide additional information to voters to clear up several perceived contentious issues.

Faced with very short deadlines after the governor’s year-end signing of the extended rooms tax (“short-term rental tax”), Island housing advocates jumped at the chance to take advantage of the unique opportunity created by the commonwealth to solve a chronic problem threatening our way of life. We had no time to waste to insure that the discussion and approval occurred, as required, at town meetings this spring by getting hundreds of signatures of support — well beyond the few needed for the petitions. A Housing Bank has for years been a widely discussed and accepted strategy for solving our housing problems, and is no surprise.

The proposed Housing Bank will assist towns with their development plans. The only imposed constraint is that projects be year-round (not be seasonally rented). It could also provide funding for infrastructure required to support year-round housing, such as sewer systems. The Martha’s Vineyard community needs to take a stand. Do we want a genuine community and a diverse economy? Or do we want to be only a resort and second-home Island — where retirees can’t downsize, where teachers, firefighters, police, tradespeople, hospital workers, town employees, and service staff commute to the Island daily by boat?

There has been no attempt to conceal or otherwise not acknowledge who is in the group. A number of us appeared at selectmen’s meetings and at town meetings as far back as 2017, and have appeared at selectmen’s meetings and in the press this year and last.

Housing has been an issue on this Island for more than 20 years. It is not new or unique, as demonstrated in a 1999 story in the Vineyard Gazette describing the “urgent need.” Yet not since Edgartown selectman Ted Morgan promoted and stewarded to completion the Morgan Woods project (named in his honor) has any town leader aggressively advocated for a large-scale solution to the housing challenge. Currently, the only publicly discussed large project on the drawing board (Meshacket in Edgartown) was initiated more than 10 years ago, and still no RFP or permits have been issued. In order to maintain the stability and fabric of our community, we believe direct and vigorous action is necessary. We hit the ground running because this is a problem that has not been solved by taking our time, or as recently stated, “waiting to see …”

In their housing production plan, Oak Bluffs selectmen endorsed, along with their planning board and housing committee, both the Housing Bank concept and funding it with a short-term rental tax — as did most other towns. One would believe with such endorsements, our leadership was saying “we are for affordable and year-round housing.” Yet selectmen don’t just disagree; they have provided the press and our state representatives with misinformation. Some fact-checking on that Oak Bluffs letter:

“The MV Housing Bank campaign seeks to take 50 percent of all revenues …” Only the Housing Bank (not us) will receive revenue, which through its elected commissioners, and only with local approval, determines how the money is used. The HBMV campaign, through democratic process, has petitioned for all towns’ town meetings to discuss and vote on this.

“Unfortunately, the campaign overlooked the town’s plans and neglected to … account for the progress made.” The proposed Housing Bank and funding mechanism is part of all six towns’ housing production plans! Yet actual units have not materialized.

“Those involved in the campaign failed to officially meet with or even consult with local officials …” The HBMV campaign met with all selectmen as well as other committees, making presentations. Some towns had multiple meetings. In fact, some selectmen participated directly early on, and all were invited.

Some complete fabrications have been stated as fact:

“[The Housing Bank] has received substantial funding from real estate development interests to pursue funding on a grand scale …” The HBMV campaign has received financial support from a number of private individuals, listed recently in local papers. In addition, the nonprofit Island Housing Trust, whose only mission is to create and preserve housing on this Island, made a donation and loan. The one (on-Island) private developer involved has written no checks to the cause. He has provided lunch at several meetings. As to funding “on a grand scale” — that is exactly what is needed to solve a grand-scale problem.

“To pay such a large share of local government dollars to, in essence, an independent organization …” The dollars being proposed do not exist today. The new money is being paid by those enjoying our Island on a short-term basis. The proposed recipient will be the Housing Bank, a quasi-governmental body to be legislated into existence by the voters and the state. By modeling the Land Bank’s framework, and securing reliable funding, we believe the Housing Bank would be similarly successful — preserving our people.

“There was no thought given to its unintended impacts, the community’s current and immediate needs …” The campaign members have been thinking about and working on solving this problem for years, including working on the housing production plans noted above.

“Development planned without direct local oversight …” Section 6 of the proposed legislation clearly states that a project cannot go forward without town approval.

From the vitriol emanating from some selectmen, you might think the Housing Bank campaign seeks to enrich its advocates at the expense of taxpayers. In fact, we seek only to enrich the community via a dedicated funding vehicle. These funds are new, and do not impose any tax on Island residents.

The Housing Bank campaign welcomes a vigorous discussion on town meeting floors.

 

Ruskin is a member of the HBMV campaign, along with John Abrams, Renee Balter, Derrill Bazzy, Makenzie Brookes, Abbe Burt, Keith Chatinover, Steve Ewing, Jim Feiner, Victoria Haeselbarth, Philippe Jordi, Ted Jochsberger, Richard Leonard, Elaine Miller, Greg Orcutt, Robert Sawyer, Larry Schubert, Dan Seidman, Sue Silk, Kira Sullivan, Peter Temple, and Peter Vincent.