A dependable source of revenue


To the Editor:

In 2004, recognizing the need for the creation of year-round housing across the Island, the majority of voters in all Island towns voted to petition the State legislature to create an Island-wide Housing Bank and fund it with a steady, dependable source of new revenue. Our efforts were unsuccessful, as the source of funding (an additional transfer on the sales of real estate) was strongly opposed by the state and national real estate lobby, despite the strong support of Island real estate professionals.

Jump to today (15 years later!) — when the need for year-round housing has reached crisis proportions — and a new, dependable source of revenue for our towns and Island has been provided by the state legislature and the governor; in the form of the expanded rooms occupancy tax.

While we obviously cannot yet be certain exactly how much new revenue the “short-term rental tax” will generate for our towns’ general funds, multiple estimates project that even after committing 50 peercent of gross rooms occupancy tax revenue to the Housing Bank, the annual net amount of revenue added to each town’s general fund will be substantially more than the amount that has historically been received.

In 2016 and 2017, we convened in all towns under the direction and guidance of the All-Island Planning Board Housing Working Group, and undertook and completed the creation of housing production plans, one in each town, and one Island-wide.

Two of the strategic priorities identified in all seven housing action plans are to:

  • Advocate for legislation to create a seasonal rentals tax (accomplished by the legislature and governor on Dec. 28), and
  • Explore the creation of an Island-wide or subregional housing trust.

Our vote this spring, to create and fund the Housing Bank, is only the first step in making it law. We must then request the state legislature to approve a special act, and, once they have, we would then be required to vote again to accept and adopt the law they approve. That process is likely to take up to two years; meaning our vote to actually form and fund the Housing Bank is not likely to occur before the spring of 2021.

Simultaneously, during that two-year period, we have much we can be accomplishing:


  • Confirm the actual receipts of increased revenue from the expanded rooms occupancy tax, and compare it with the estimates.
  • Determine if the portion we have intended to commit to housing is appropriate, based on the actual revenue we receive.
  • Work with our legislators and one another to establish the policies and procedures for the Housing Bank in preparation for its approval.
  • Work on all other housing production plan strategies, in each town and collaboratively, such as zoning, wastewater management, water quality/availability, smart growth and infill opportunities, other infrastructure, etc.

Given that a confirming vote to officially create and fund the Housing Bank will be required by us in a year or two, when the legislature has approved the Housing Bank and after we have confirmed the available revenue, there is little risk in voting yes at town meeting this spring — only the potential rewards to be realized by setting in motion this sensible plan, filled with opportunity and promise, and challenging and encouraging us to work together to achieve our common goal of needed year-round housing.

Richard Leonard
Oak Bluffs

Leonard is a member of the Housing Bank MV campaign and president of Island Housing Trust.    –Ed.


  1. In Tisbury the town with the highest taxes the short term rental tax should be divided as follows. 50% to reduce property taxes, and 50% to build the new school.The housing bank should get 0% Don’t encourage more people to move here!

  2. Rich, this is rich. What I just read was “Give us the money because we won’t be able to spend it for a couple years and maybe we’ll have our act together by then” Why don’t we invest in our schools and towns first to gauge these revenues before signing it off to this disorganized mess.
    Vote No.

  3. This plan makes so much sense. Of course we need to fund our schools – but there will be no children to populate the schools, or teachers to teach in them, if we do not have affordable housing options on the island. Many young workers and families are not able to move to the island, or remain on the island, due to the housing crisis… and make no mistake… it is a crisis. This “dependable source of revenue” is a great idea. I hope voters will support it and contribute to keeping our island community inclusive and vibrant.

  4. Vote “no” for affordable housing. The new dependable source of revenue should be used to lower property taxes, making housing a little more affordable for all island property owners. A portion should also be used for needed town projects ie, schools, firehouses, expensive repairs and equipment, which will also lower taxes and benefit each town. We should put the money where it will do the most good for everyone, not just those in need of more affordable housing.

  5. How many bureaucrats will be employed by the housing bank, wasting money that could otherwise be used intelligently by the towns to lower taxes for those of us footing the ever increasing bill for public services. All of these proponents should propose another way to fund their scheme, and with all of the wealthy limousine liberals here, I’m sure the Hollywood jet set would be very willing to open their wallets as much as they open their mouths especially if it was created with tax deductions for the donors. There is a very simple way to get hundreds of affordable housing units in place very quickly. Take a tract of land, pave a road, install the utilities such as water, wastewater, electric and cable… and add paved ‘trailer pads’. A trailer park ‘manufactured home’ community would be the best use of money, best use of limited land, and greatly expand the affordable housing in the shortest possible time. But it wont fly here. EVER. Too many snobs. Every affordable housing proponent pushes for a cedar shingled cape on a 1/2 acre. Nothing like living in close proximity to other folks in a trailer park to ‘motivate’ someone to get a second job, save some money, and move on up the economic ladder. Despite its negative connotation, some of the newer ‘manufactured homes’ communities look a LOT better than some of the dumps here.

  6. I think it is important that we do recognize the need for housing, and the means to make it possible – however the housing bank is not it. I don’t want my money funding robocalls either.

    Vote no.

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