Housing bank coalition speaks to transfer fee bills

Coalition is joined by Nantucket and others in support for bills.

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A hearing for two transfer fee bills was held Tuesday. Legislators heard testimony from the Housing Bank coalition.

The state legislature’s joint committee on housing heard support on two pieces of transfer fee legislation from the Coalition to Create a Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank and others Tuesday, during a hearing held by the joint committee on housing.

Two transfer fee bills had hearings Tuesday, S.868 and H.1377. They are the Senate and House versions of the same bill, with identical language. The bills would allow cities and towns to set a transfer fee of up to 2 percent on real estate transactions. These bills set the exemption threshold at the state median, which is $503,000. It gives cities and towns the option to raise their exemption threshold.

Coalition coordinator Laura Silber testified to the joint committee on housing. The coalition now boasts 130-plus members, including representation from all six Island town governments, Dukes County, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and others.

“The image of Martha’s Vineyard is of a wealthy vacation playground, but we are in fact a diverse working-class community of 20,000 year-round residents made up of six small towns,” Silber said. “Forty percent of our workforce makes below 80 percent of area median income. Today, Martha’s Vineyard’s median home price is soaring past $1.2 million.” 

The coalition is working to model a housing bank after the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, and collect a 2 percent transfer fee on real estate transactions, paid by the buyer, 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.

Silber was not alone in voicing the need for S.868 and H.1377. 

“Nantucket and many other commonwealth communities need this legislation now,” Nantucket municipal housing director Tucker Holland said in his testimony. “More resources need to be brought to bear if we are going to retain a population at all income levels.”

Quoting Nantucket town manager Libby Gibson, Holland said without adequate housing, the staff has no place to live.

“What keeps me up at night is how to operate a municipality with sufficient staffing levels, and how to keep our employees housed in housing that is safe and secure. We have multiple town positions open due to the lack of available housing. We had a DPW employee living out of their car recently. We currently have four firefighters that commute when on duty,” Gibson said.

Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, who wrote H.1377, said the bill was aimed at capturing some of the wealth that’s being generated in the “hot real estate” market.

“It speaks to how important it would be for us to try and work on local enabling legislation to help meet this extraordinary demand for resources that would allow us to pursue affordable housing projects,” Connolly said.

The Vineyard joins Boston, Somerville, Concord, Cambridge, Brookline, Nantucket, and the Pioneer Valley area in support of transfer fee legislation.

Meanwhile, the coalition continues to garner support on-Island. On Monday, the Edgartown select board agreed to issue a letter of support for the transfer fee legislation, but stopped short of endorsing the coalition in its ever-growing network of support from local organizations, committees, businesses, and town governments.

Also on Monday, the Aquinnah select board, Community Preservation committee, housing committee, and planning board all endorsed the coalition, and voiced support for the transfer fee legislation.

A third piece of transfer fee legislation that the coalition is supporting, H.2895, got a hearing in the summer.

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  1. Laura Silber, CCMVHB coordinator, did a magnificent job at the hearing, conveying both the facts and the significance of the Vineyard’s housing crisis in the scant three minutes allowed. I watched the entire hearing. It ran almost two and a half hours, but my attention never flagged. I already knew that access to housing was a crisis all across the commonwealth, but the witnesses put names and places on the general picture. We here on the Cape and Islands have a few things in common with residents of western Mass.: rural and small-town character, an economy impacted by tourism and the second-home market, and distance from Beacon Hill, both geographically and politically. I was especially struck by Tucker Holland of Nantucket, talking about the serious shortage of volunteer firefighters on that island; how long before that starts affecting our six towns? (Maybe it already is?)

    What sticks in my mind most clearly, though, is something I hadn’t considered before: the predicament faced by formerly incarcerated people as they return to life outside prison. Successful re-entry, and sometimes release or parole itself, depends on stable, affordable housing. Often regaining child custody does too. What happens when such housing is not available, as it too often isn’t? House bill 4071, one of the many covered by this hearing, addresses this issue.

    A video of the hearing can be viewed online at https://malegislature.gov/Events/Hearings/Detail/4045. As you’ll see from the list accompanying the video, the hearing was about more than transfer fees, more than S.868 and H.1377, two bills that are crucial to making the M.V. Housing Bank a reality. It was about how the lack of affordable and attainable housing affects all aspects of community life. I recommend watching at least part of it when you have a chance.

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