Coalition outlines housing bank

First public listening session sees support from public, Island organizations.

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Coalition steering committee member Doug Ruskin, shown here at a 2018 hospital forum, outlined what a Housing Bank on the Island could look like. — Gabrielle Mannino

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.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Actually in 2019, West Tisbury approved the Housing Bank, but then at the behest of the Select Board, rescinded it. The promise then, was that a committee would be formed to revisited the issue. It’s good to see that progress is being made.

  2. Keep Our Island Green is a non profit organization currently opposed to the imposition of a transfer tax and the creation of a governmental bureaucracy for the development of housing on Martha’s Vineyard. While we do not dispute the need for affordable housing, the implementation of a tax and the creation of a new bureaucracy to develop and build housing on the island is short sighted and anti-environmental. Affordable housing should be built, but on a case-by-case basis, in adherence with local zoning and without the use of taxpayer funds. Turning control over from the local town boards to a bureaucracy in control of vast sums of money will have disastrous results for the environment. It will also interfere with and impede more sustainable, equitable and wiser housing opportunities. Interested members of the Vineyard community and environmental advocates are invited to join.

    • The meeting was very informative and probably would have cleared up a lot of your concerns.

      The Housing Bank itself will not be in the business of developing or building. They are a funding entity. Project proposals will come to the board and the board will vote on whether or not to fund them. Proposals would come from individuals, for profit developers, non-profits, and/or local governments.

      Each town will have a HB advisory board with veto power over projects in their town. Those boards would be made up of a selectman, affordable housing board member, planning board member etc.

      Mindful of environmental concerns the Housing Bank would hope to prioritize redevelopment over new development, and encourage projects with sustainable energy and wastewater components. Basically, the greener the proposal the better the chances of the board voting to fund.

      • The funds will be used to develop and build more housing on MV. It makes no difference who is doing the actual construction work.

  3. Hi Dan, The towns currently do not have sufficient funding to meet the goals of their Housing Production Plans, and except for Aquinnah (because of Tribal Housing) fall far short of the state recommendation for 10% affordable housing inventory. Housing Bank funds would enable the towns to undertake the projects they would like to, in order to meet these state recommendations. The towns are currently using taxpayer funds to fund affordable housing, via Community Preservation funds.
    Affordable housing will still be build on a case-by-case basis, under parameters designed with input from all the towns, and with final approval required from each town advisory board. To repeat: no project could be built in any town without the approval of the town Community Advisory Board, made up of representatives from Select Board, Planning Board, Board of Health, Wastewater, Affordable Housing Committee, CPC or Municipal Housing Trust.. The towns have ultimate veto power over any project in their towns, there is no relinquishing of control. Also, the towns themselves are eligible for funds and can apply to use Housing Bank funding to finance their own affordable housing projects.
    The Housing Bank itself, would neither build nor develop projects itself. It would be a funding mechanism, with the ability to receive and grant land, in order to partner with conservation groups like the Land Bank to capture housing opportunities in appropriate areas while protecting unbroken habitat. I know you are a strong supporter of the Land Bank, and the director is generously advising us as we move forward, and was present to answer questions Monday evening, and will be on the call this evening as well.
    We are also receiving input from other Island conservation groups, to craft language to prioritize net-zero energy projects, nitrogen mitigation projects (Nitroe systems, etc) which would actually involve more environmental-impact prioritization than is currently required for open-market construction.

    I hope you can outline for us what you see as a more “equitable” and “sustainable” model, and also where you see funding coming from for the 6 towns in order for them to meet their housing goals — if you have another solution, we would love to hear it and always welcome input.

    We are hearing from law enforcement, hospital, fire departments, food pantry — our community is losing emergency workers, law enforcement personnel, educators, food insecurity workers, and hospital staff because of insufficient housing, in every town, in addition to tradespeople and essential workers, many of whom contribute essential volunteer hours to the community –staffing everything from our school PTOs to our food pantry to our volunteer fire departments. Our affordable housing committees are also volunteers.

    As of Friday there were only 2 houses on the market listed under $900k. Open to suggestions.

    • Hi Laura:
      As you know, I have no problem with a housing bank. My problem is with taxing existing homeowners, many who have sacrificed a great deal already to own a home here, so that you can have a 10 million dollar annual revenue stream (your estimate) which will ultimately go to the development and construction of new housing projects. My alternative is the free market and privately sourced charitable funds instead of robbing people’s nest eggs to provide housing for private individuals. You’ll never be able to build enough housing for all the people who want to live here, it will just compound the problem. Your tax will cause more overpopulation, overcrowding and destruction of natural habitat and groundwater resources. The reason prices are high currently is supply and demand, wages that have not increased, price inflation and because the Vineyard through conservation remains a desirable location. You intentions are good, but this tax and build approach will ultimately be a disaster for the Vineyard.

  4. The Land Bank revenues last year were almost $20 million. The entire town budget for West Tisbury is about the same amount! The amount of conserved land on the Vineyard I have seen calculated by the MV Commission to be around 40% at this point in time. The Land Bank adverts to owning 7% of the entire island at this point. Mathematically, eventually, as the Land Bank spends these enormous resources on conservation, they will be acquiring individual retail home sites or even homes and tearing the housing down. The Land Bank’s mission cannot go on forever. The 2% fee on purchases provides a huge source of funding. Should it ALL be funding land purchases and what is becoming a larger and larger requirement for land managers? The Housing Bank idea needs to be based around the notion that the revenues generated by the 2% tax should gradually be phased over to the overwhelming social need to house affordably our folks through government based subsidies. I say this because almost every proposal for a privately funded 40B project (not coming out of a governmentally funded land purchase) has been dialed back by the MV Commission, to the point of a lack of ability for the limited dividend developer to make the numbers work economically. Yet there is a huge pool of funding already there that can be re-allocated gradually to the other need. There must be a zero based budgeting review and sunset provisions put into the Land Bank charter to make it become a combined Housing and Land Conservation organization with funding for both needs. At a certain point in time, no new acquisitions will be reasonable for either and then the funding will need to be used simply to manage and maintain the project and lands that have been built through these institutions. That is the ONLY long range plan that I see to be viable, regardless of what position or side you are on.

    • There will always be a housing shortage on Martha’s Vineyard.
      Gutting or diluting the Land Bank’s mission will not solve the problem.
      Current Land Bank properties and the types of properties that the LB was created to acquire are not appropriate for new housing. So far the LB has not (to my knowledge) acquired in-town properties. As for the Land Bank monies, LB properties majorly increase the quality of life for residents and visitors.
      Furthermore, it is well established that opening up new areas to housing in the end has a negative fiscal impact on towns, as infrastructure and service costs balloon. Keeping land out of development makes fiscal sense. The Kuehn’s Way project is IMO a huge wrong turn for both the Town of Tisbury and the Land Bank.
      New housing should be created by “infilling” areas in towns.
      Large institutions and towns should take steps to provide housing for their employees.
      Some already do.
      Also, there is quite a lot of “affordable” housing on the Island that is not counted because it doesn’t meet some state standards that have not been officially grandfathered. This undercount should be corrected with an accurate survey of all housing to establish how close towns actually are to the 10% figure. Some individuals who have sought to provide affordable housing units have been prevented from doing so by onerous requirements that torpedoed the individuals’ good intentions.
      I am against levying a new tax to create a housing bank.

  5. This lady Katherine Scott in this post and another concerning the Tisbury school shows remarkable common sense and thoughtful recommendations. Ana de Sousa is right behind her. Taxing others to provide housing for people who cant live here is income redistribution pure and simple and creates animus and even hostility not to mention dependency. Government should not pick winners and losers and the invisible hand of capitalism should prevail. If there is demand, supply will always fill the vacuum but in new and creative ways.

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