Housing Bank redo looming for West Tisbury

Selectmen vow to amend, postpone Housing Bank articles at town meeting continuation.

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Doug Ruskin, an advocate for the Housing Bank, speaks with West Tisbury selectmen about the issue Wednesday ahead of Tuesday's town meeting vote. - Rich Saltzberg

The topsy-turvy path the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank has taken during the 2019 town meeting season continued unabated Wednesday when West Tisbury selectmen declared they would push to reconsider and amend warrant articles addressing the issue when town meeting continues Tuesday at 7 pm at West Tisbury School.

West Tisbury voters approved Article 24, the legislative architecture for the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank, at town meeting on April 9 with a 184-58 vote. However, over the course of two nights, voters did not take up Article 25, which set forth how the Housing Bank would be funded. That’s scheduled to be taken up on Tuesday when a modest special town meeting is also slated.

Moderator Dan Waters made it clear at the close of town meeting night two on April 10, that reconsideration of warrant articles that had already come to the floor for a vote was entirely possible when the meeting reconvenes. That fact was not lost on the selectmen.

Selectmen chairman Skipper Manter noted Wednesday the prescribed threshold for advancement to the state Legislature — three towns voting in favor of adopting the Housing Bank out of six — was not met because “four towns voted not to participate.”

“Either they voted it down or they voted to indefinitely postpone,” town administrator Jennifer Rand said. “It’s functionally the same thing.”

At their various annual town meetings Oak Bluffs and Tisbury voted to reject Housing Bank articles while Edgartown and Chilmark voted to postpone Housing Bank articles indefinitely. Chilmark did vote to approve an lightly defined affordable housing alternative that named the housing bank, Dukes County, and the Molly Flender Affordable Housing Trust as participants.

“I don’t think the concept is a bad one,” Manter said. “I actually believe all six towns should get together and come up with what they think is appropriate, not just send a sheet to the Legislature and let them figure it out.”

“Everyone agrees that conceptually that this is worth talking about,” Rand said. She suggested West Tisbury follow somewhat in the footsteps of Chilmark by amending Article 24 to say “we commit to working with the other five communities to develop something to bring forward next year.”

“I think time has passed and events have happened,” selectmen Cythia Mitchell said remotely via conference call, “since the town meeting voted to support the Housing Bank article. I think a motion to reconsider is appropriate and…I like the idea of also sending the message — because clearly our town has a strong feeling about affordable housing and about the proposed affordable Housing Bank — to indicate that we have every intention and desire to work with the other towns to get something that all six towns can get behind.”

“Agreed,” selectman Kent Healy said.

Selectmen agreed to ask West Tisbury Affordable Housing Committee member Ted Jochsberger to make the motion Tuesday.

“Our state reps have gone on record saying they’ll consider Housing Bank legislation if two towns are in favor of it,” finance committee member Doug Ruskin told the board. “As an advocate, I would argue that Chilmark has already said that; we certainly have already said that, and you could even make an argument that Edgartown is seriously considering it based on the language that was used — postpone. I would suggest that you could just leave it as it is.”

The board was unswayed. Manter pointed out the language in the article stipulates three towns must ratify the Housing Bank and that’s what West Tisbury voters supported. Ruskin disagreed.

“No, what the language says is three towns must vote to join the Housing Bank once that legislation exists.”

“Doug, I’m not a fan of that because Aquinnah still has to act,” Mitchell said. “The voters obviously will have to render their opinion either to postpone it — if they decide not to postpone it indefinitely, then it stands. But given the new information, I think they ought to have a shot at essentially guaranteeing that two towns will not go forward with it.”

“Guaranteeing what,” Ruskin asked?

“So, if we let it stand and Aquinnah passes it, then it goes,” she said.

After further deliberation Ruskin and the board were able to agree on little else regarding Article 24 except that they all believed general support existed in both West Tisbury and Chilmark for the Housing Bank.  

The board voted unanimously to support amending the article.  

Rand told the board town accountant Bruce Stone “has serious concerns about the mechanics” of Article 25. Article 25, the Housing Bank funding article,  will come to the floor of the town meeting Tuesday.

Manter said the board had already established it was not in favor of forking over 50 percent of West Tisbury’s short-term rental proceeds toward the Housing Bank and put it to Ruskin to verify the funding article codified a 50 percent commitment.

“If the Housing Bank is formed, and West Tisbury joins. That’s the way it’s written,” Ruskin said.

The notion of postponing the article entered the debate and Ruskin said he thought it would be “inappropriate” to do so.

“The other option is to get a hard yes or a hard no,” Rand said.

Mitchell said how the board and the voters might be disposed to vote on Article 25 “may depend on what happens with Article 24.”

After further deliberation, the board solidified its stance on Article 25.

“Our position is to postpone indefinitely, no matter what happens,” Manter said.