A new group on the Island is looking to revive the idea of a housing bank — this time joining other Massachusetts towns, and modeling it on the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank real estate transfer tax.
The Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank is led by a steering committee co-chaired by Julie Fay, former Martha’s Vineyard Community Services executive director, and Arielle Faria, current administrator of the Edgartown affordable housing committee and resident of the new Scott’s Grove apartments in West Tisbury, and made up of other Islanders, young and old.
“The crisis has just come to a boiling point,” Fay said. “There is just no housing stock for folks, and it’s really impacting every sector on the Island.”
Discussions began in November, and the Island’s booming pandemic-inspired real estate market fueled the effort as home prices soared and housing stock was squeezed.
This is the third attempt at a housing bank on Martha’s Vineyard. The first in 2005 got agreement from all six Island towns and Island realtors, but was shot down by the state legislature when the Massachusetts Association of Realtors lobbied against it.
The second attempt came in 2019, following the expanded rooms excise tax on rentals such as Airbnb and VRBO. That proposal asked for 50 percent of the new revenue generated by the tax, but was swiftly dismissed by town selectmen before being defeated by each town at annual town meetings.
“We think it’s a much better, smarter way to use the infrastructure that’s already out there and provide seed money for development projects through the [housing bank],” she said.
The coalition wants to create a housing bank modeled after the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, with funding from a transfer fee tax on real estate transactions, similar to what was proposed in 2005. The housing bank will not propose use of existing revenues from towns such as the short-term rental tax or Community Preservation Act funds.
In an Op-Ed in The Times, Fay and Faria detailed the efforts and goals of the coalition.
The coalition seeks to join Martha’s Vineyard with Nantucket, Provincetown, Boston, Somerville, Brookline, and Concord — all towns that have passed home rule petitions to create housing banks based on transfer fees. The success in those communities shows there is more of an appetite for such an idea now than there was in the past, according to the op-ed.
Fay said the coalition does not want to duplicate any other town services. Over the next few months, the first thing on the coalition’s agenda is to meet with planning boards, affordable housing committees, selectmen, finance committees, and others to get the word out and get feedback.
At the Martha’s Vineyard Builders Association annual meeting Thursday, John Abrams, a member of the steering committee for the coalition, said that when Island towns voted in 2005 to overwhelmingly support a housing bank, the median home price on Martha’s Vineyard was sitting around $500,000.
“As reported recently, it is now well over $1 million, and we still don’t have a housing bank — but I think we will,” Abrams said.
He said the coalition consists of a diverse cross section of the community, with about 50 members that include business leaders, affordable housing committee members, housing commissioners, and other knowledgeable and invested folks from each Island town.
The group is committed to a “slow, deliberate, highly inclusive process” to move forward this initiative, which will require individual home rule petitions from each of the six towns.
He added that the Island’s state representatives have a bill in the works to allow towns throughout the commonwealth to form housing bankis. “We have joined the coalition, and we hope to spend the next year or two making a housing bank on Martha’s Vineyard that will bring a dedicated funding source of $5 million to $10 million a year to really solve this problem,” Abrams said.
Still in its infancy, the coalition is working on what the percentage tax would be, what real estate would be exempt, and what the housing bank management would look like. The goal is to have an article on town warrants at annual town meetings in 2022.
“There’s no rush here,” Fay said. “We want to get everybody across six towns on board.”
The coalition is in communication with an excited “fiscal intermediary,” whom Fay declined to name.
“We know we have 24 months in front of us and our committee will disband, and hopefully there will be a housing bank on the other side,” Fay said.