The time has come for the Island to step up and play a bigger role in solving the housing crisis.
For the third time, voters will have a chance to create a housing bank on the Island. But unlike previous iterations of the housing bank idea that were hastily planned, the Coalition to Create the MV Housing Bank created a thoughtful process that was open and transparent, and included Island leadership from the outset. Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t been paying attention.
Last week we had a story that demonstrated the need for the housing bank with a bit of irony. Island Housing Trust, the Island’s pre-eminent nonprofit developer of affordable housing, issued an email blast to seek housing for a staff member currently in a short-term rental that is in jeopardy of ending.
How could that be? Doesn’t IHT have housing the staff member could rent?
The answer is that housing created by IHT is built with a combination of private and public funding (Community Preservation and state grants). Like anyone else, an employee of IHT would have to enter the lotteries or get on one of the extensive waiting lists for rentals, which is how individuals and families are selected. So, the short answer is, no, IHT has no inside track on housing.
The issue prompted dozens of comments on our website and Facebook pages. It also generated discussion on other social media pages, notably the personal page of Island restaurateur J.B. Blau, who posted this one-line comment with the IHT email screenshot: “Just in case anyone doesn’t think we really have a housing issue … ummm.”
Another recent story pointed to the difficulty even well-paying jobs have in attracting workers to the Island. Hospital CEO Denise Schepici told us 19 individuals turned down offers in January, a couple of them doctors, pointing to the housing costs.
There are some detractors of the housing bank, notably a frequent commenter who has used our comment section multiple times to decry the need for a housing bank. The commenter is of the opinion that there are other avenues to meet the affordable housing needs, and that having a housing bank will somehow hurt the Island.
He is entitled to that opinion, of course, but if he doesn’t think the Island is in crisis when it comes to housing, he really hasn’t been paying close enough attention.
Homes have been swallowed up for short-term rentals like Airbnbs. Some homes that were once available for seasonal rentals are now occupied by owners, who decided during the COVID-19 pandemic that they’d prefer to be on the Island more regularly and work remotely. Other homes have been snatched up by people paying well over the asking price, further driving up the Island’s median home price to a whopping $1.2 million. IHT and town affordable housing committees have done yeoman’s work, but they’ve barely made a dent. There are more than 700 year-round families and individuals on waiting lists for rentals — 200 of them children.
As state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, put it frankly at a check-passing for Harbor Homes on Friday, “I can tell you as a millennial, my generation is screwed; quite frankly, it’s impossible to own a home in our district.”
Is that what we want? To become a place that is unattainable for our children and grandchildren? A place where the vast majority of teachers, firefighters, police officers, and healthcare workers — good-paying jobs, by the way — are forced to live off-Island and commute to the Vineyard?
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the housing bank, so we’ll try to dispel some of them by providing facts about what the housing bank would be.
A 2 percent transfer fee would be paid by the purchaser of a property on the Vineyard. The first $1 million would be exempt from the fee. So the buyer of a home for $1.2 million would pay a 2 percent fee on the $200,000.
Meanwhile, there is a provision in the legislation that would keep this from becoming a proliferation of new construction. Instead, the legislation requires that 75 percent of the funds be used for existing properties — buying back houses from the short-term rental market, and putting deed restrictions in place to keep properties affordable moving forward.
Tisbury, West Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown voters can lead the way on April 12 when all four towns head to town meetings. Chilmark voters go to town meeting and to the polls later in the month, and Aquinnah’s town meeting and election are in May.
Approve the housing bank and send a message to the state legislature that it should approve the enabling legislation that would allow the transfer fee to fund it.