In its first public listening session, members of the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank gave a presentation on their “first draft parameters” to more than 140 attendees via Zoom, and fielded wide-ranging questions from the public.
The listening session featured members of the coalition as well as speakers from various Island organizations.
“We need a comprehensive regional solution with long-range planning and funding appropriate to the scale of the problem,” coalition steering committee co-chair Julie Fay said.
The coalition is the third attempt at a housing bank on Martha’s Vineyard, and comes amid a growing affordable housing crisis on the Island. The first endeavor in 2005 struck an agreement with all six Island towns and many Island real estate agents, 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 select board members across the Island before being defeated by each town at annual town meetings.
Steering committee member Doug Ruskin said the coalition has been working with a subcommittee and its steering committee to flesh out the parameters of what a future housing bank could look like.
While nothing is set in stone, Ruskin said, the coalition sees a future housing bank being modeled after the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. The governance would consist of seven commissioners — one elected member from each town, plus a state appointee.
There would also be six community advisory boards, one from each town, with seven appointed members from the select boards, conservation commissions, affordable housing committees, health departments, planning boards, and zoning boards.
Housing bank governance would review proposals from organizations, individuals, and public entities to make sure they meet requirements and serve all types of applicants.
“The key here is the advisory boards would have veto power over any projects,” Ruskin said. “While the central body of commissioners would be vetting proposals, nothing would happen in a particular town without the advisory board’s OK.”
The housing bank could receive proposals; provide funding for housing infrastructure; provide shared-appreciation equity loans; and purchase, receive, hold, lease, grant, and sell property.
Any housing bank–funded project would have to be deed-restricted to be occupied year-round and at a specific income level. Properties would also pay their share of property taxes.
To keep the overhead low, the Land Bank has agreed to do the administrative work associated with fee collections, should a housing bank be established.
The focus would be on previously developed properties, projects that mitigate climate change, and projects that have state-of-the-art wastewater systems.
The funding mechanism would consist of a 2 percent transfer fee paid by the buyer, same as the Land Bank, but only on all dollars above $1 million — a home purchased for $999,999 would be exempt from the fee, while a home purchased for $1.2 million would be taxed 2 percent on $200,000. Coalition campaign coordinator Laura Silber said it could create an up to $10 million annual revenue stream. The proposed housing bank would also revisit its exemption threshold every five years.
The housing bank would not develop, remodel, rehabilitate, or maintain property — speciality services Ruskin said are widely available on the Island.
“[The housing bank] would also not fund any project that isn’t restricted to year-round occupancy,” Ruskin said.
Land Bank executive director James Lengyel said if a housing bank is created, the Land Bank could purchase property jointly with the housing bank, or the Land Bank could work with another entity and have the housing bank fund the purchase — creating more opportunities for housing.
“I would imagine what we’re doing right now would continue; there would just be more fruitfulness,” Lengyel said.
Hospital CEO Denise Schepici gave her endorsement to the coalition, and said hospital employees, especially physicians and nurses, who make higher salaries, are always shocked at the prices of homes on the Island. “We are so committed to working with all of you to make this work, and I praise the efforts of this consortium and all the leadership that has pulled this together,” Schepici said.
MVC executive director Adam Turner said there is a significant need for seasonal workforce housing outlined in all the Island’s housing production plans (HPP). He said the MVC is going to create a seasonal workforce housing taskforce.
“It’s got to happen,” Turner said of the housing bank. “If it doesn’t happen, it’s going to really hurt this place that we call home.”
In addition to support from organization leaders, Monday’s Zoom chat was filled with comments of praise and support from the public.
“The goal here is to do more, and in order to do more, we need more money,” Ruskin said. “Our big focus is a mechanism to bring significant money in.”
There are several bills at the state legislature that deal with a transfer fee: S.868, H.1377, H.2895, and S.873. The bills will change as they move through the legislature, but the coalition is working with Nantucket to request amendments that will suit the needs of the islands.
Ruskin said there are lots of people with higher incomes who still can’t buy a home on the Vineyard, which is leading the coalition to propose a higher limit on area median income (AMI) — as high as 240 percent. But Ruskin assured the meeting that there would be fewer projects for those with higher incomes, and many more for those at the lower end. This would give the housing bank the opportunity to expand service as median home prices increase.
Each proposed bill is raising the area median income to 175 percent. Silber said Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard have both joined to ask that the islands be allowed to go up to 240 percent AMI — which is based on a current Massachusetts General Law that allows the islands to go 70 percentage points higher than the rest of the commonwealth.
Locally, the coalition is looking to bring a housing bank to a vote in each of the Island towns at 2022 annual town meetings. The legislative process at the state level could take much longer.
Kaylea Moore, Island liaison for state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, said some iteration of a transfer fee legislation has been filed for the past 20 years.
“There really is no timeline,” Moore said. “Some more towns are taking interest in it, but there are no guarantees.”
John Abrams said the coalition’s “biggest lift” will be at the state level, and could take years. “The coalition has felt from the beginning that this is a long-haul effort, and as long as it takes, we’ll be at it,” Abrams said.
The coalition is holding its second public listening session on Wednesday, May 5, at 7:30 pm via this Zoom link or by entering the Meeting ID: 871 5147 4407 and Passcode: 907471.
Those who want to get involved can go to the coalition’s website and scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up for information alerts, join the coalition council, and share your housing story.