On Tuesday night, the Chilmark select board unanimously endorsed draft legislation for the creation of a Martha’s Vineyard housing bank, and agreed to place the legislation on the Chilmark annual town meeting warrant.
Housing bank coalition coordinator Laura Silber came before the board to pitch the legislation and break down its major components. Silber was joined by coalition member Doug Ruskin and South Mountain Co. founder John Abrams.
The proposed legislation marks the third attempt at forming a housing bank to address the increasing dearth of housing on the Vineyard. The last attempt at a housing bank sought to take a percentage of short-term rental income from the Vineyard’s six towns in order to fund its purpose. Chilmark voters rejected that proposal at a town meeting in 2019.
The new proposal seeks a 2 percent real estate transfer fee through a mechanism similar to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. However, unlike the Land Bank, the first $1 million of a sale price isn’t subject to the 2 percent fee. As currently drafted, the Housing Bank would consist of seven elected commissioners, each representing one of the Vineyard’s six towns, plus one commissioner at large. The legislation also calls for a town advisory board for each town. This board would have the authority to approve or deny any project consisting of two or more dwellings. Among the priorities of the Housing Bank, according to the legislation, would be to target pre-existing dwellings for conversion to affordable units, as opposed to the ground-up building of units.
Per an executive summary presented at the meeting, the powers of the housing bank would include making loans and grants, borrowing, and buying, selling, or leasing property. The powers specifically exclude developing, renovating, managing, or operating properties.
Silber told the board that four out of the six towns must approve of the legislation at town meetings in order for it to move forward. Silber emphasized the housing bank fee would be “opt-in,” so towns that don’t vote for the legislation would not be subject to fees, and those that do would be subject to the fee.
On the subject of “smart growth,” which is a component of the housing bank priorities list, Silber said, select board member Warren Doty raised a question about the concept in relation to Chilmark.
“We all understand that Chilmark is very rural, and it’s difficult to build with smart growth provisions in the town of Chilmark — that would simply be a priority bullet point, but it would not be a make-or-break for any project in the town of Chilmark,” Silber said.
Smart growth, according to the Washington, D.C., nonprofit Smart Growth America’s website, is briefly defined as “an overall approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and robust community engagement.”
The housing bank would be geared to target the greatest need in housing, which would be up to 240 percent of the area median income (AMI), Silber noted.
“Currently the area median income for a family of four is $105,000, $74,000 for an individual. We’ve gotten a lot of questions on that 240 percent. That lines up with what Nantucket is requesting — also lines up with what the town of Chatham is requesting …”
Silber went on to say the 240 percent is based on what Aspen, Colo., needed to keep a professional workforce in place: “The bulk of the housing is still 150 percent and below, but we do need provisions so we can keep [a] professional workforce in our geographic area.”
“We went through a lot of discussion about the structure of the housing bank years ago — this has come up — now this is actually the third time it has been proposed,” Doty said. “And I think this structure, as it’s presented today, is really very good. This is a structure that has worked very well for the Land Bank. We’re all very familiar with it. The town advisory board has a lot of authority, and has a lot of teeth. And the commissioners that will run the housing bank will all be elected, you know, the same way our Land Bank commissioners are elected.”
Doty lauded the coalition for assembling the draft legislation.
Select board member Bill Rossi inquired about an option in the legislation which would allow commissioners to be compensated. Rossi asked specifically where the funds would come from if compensation was sought.
“It’s kind of a remote possibility,” Abrams said. Abrams said the money would come out of housing bank fees; however, all the town advisory boards would have to approve it. Abrams said it was included because it’s already difficult to get young people to join boards and committees. He said the inclusion of the language “allows for the possibility if everybody felt strongly it would be a good idea.”
Ruskin said the bar was set high on compensation. Not only would the individual advisory board have to approve doing it, but all six boards would have to unanimously agree in order for it to be implemented.
“Even if only four of the towns opted in,” select board chair Jim Malkin asked.
“Well, it would be the member towns,” Abrams said.
Malkin asked if people who serve on other housing entities would be able to serve as commissioners or advisory board members, “given you could have a conflict.”
“Jim, like the rest of the boards on Martha’s Vineyard, everybody has conflicts,” Abrams said, “so the housing bank would be completely subject to open meeting laws of Massachusetts, so those who have a conflict would have to recuse, but there won’t be any restrictions on who could do it.”
Rossi said overall it was very clear what the coalition was striving to do, and he said he hopes the language is passed in the spring at town meeting, and is successful in the legislature.
The board took its vote with the proviso it would need to revisit and approve any language changes to the legislation. “If you come back with something that is different that we have not seen, then we have to do it again,” Malkin said of the vote.