To the Editor:
One of the characteristics of small-town Massachusetts that I love most is annual town meeting. It is democracy at its most basic: citizens discussing our government’s responsibilities and the issues that matter to our community. We are so lucky to get the opportunity to debate and disagree about issues in our society, and I encourage everyone to attend your local annual town meeting if you are able. (V.H., O.B., Edgartown, and W.T. are on April 9 at 7 pm this year; Chilmark on April 22 at 7:30 pm, and Aquinnah on May 14 at 7 pm).
This town meeting season, we have the opportunity to begin to solve one of our community’s most pressing needs: year-round housing. As everyone is all too aware, housing on our Island is incredibly unaffordable. As one example, over half of low- and middle-income Vineyarders spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing, an unsustainable number that creates stresses in other parts of their budgets and hurts the Island’s economic well-being. We have tried through piecemeal initiatives to fix this problem, and there have been some successes. But our Island remains profoundly unaffordable for large parts of our population.
Affordable housing is a passionate issue for me. As someone who would love to return home after college, a major factor in this desire is affordable housing. Many young people cannot afford to remain on or return to the Island they call home. This is a problem not just for the Island economy, but for the Island community that I and many others are so passionate about preserving. We need young people staying or coming back to Martha’s Vineyard to lead and contribute to our community. The dearth of young people living on Martha’s Vineyard strips our community of desperately needed labor, and is a major factor in our shortages of medical professionals, tradespeople, and other solid middle-income backbones of a local economy. And it’s not just young people — in reality, everyone of all ages feels the stresses of our affordable housing crisis.
This year, we have the chance to begin the process of creating an Island-wide Housing Bank, called for in all Island towns’ housing production plans, to help alleviate this epidemic. Our legislature has passed a short-term rental tax, and instead of arguing over the merits of it, we should be putting some of the revenue generated by this tax to good use. This town meeting season, I strongly urge you to vote yes for year-round housing and for a vibrant Island future.
Chatinover is a member of the Dukes County Commission. –Ed.