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