Clean sweep for housing bank

Funding for up-Island schools; electronic voting to stay.

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Updated 5/11 at 8:20 am

The housing bank has been approved by all six Island towns at town meeting, with Aquinnah becoming the sixth town to support the affordable housing initiative.

In the town’s first foray into electronic voting, 87.95 percent of the voters in attendance voted yes, while just 8.43 percent voted no. There were 3.61 percent of voters who abstained from the vote.

A few people spoke in favor of the housing bank during the meeting. 

“In short, to meet these needs, the housing bank coalition has always had a few goals: to bring sufficient revenue to the Island to truly work on the problem, to increase year-round housing availability with great care for our environment, to help people who have been unable to access current programs, and to address the issue without affecting taxes,” Mitze Pratt, who is a member of the Coalition to Create the MV Housing Bank, said in her introduction of the article. “This legislation both protects our land and people.” 

“We’re in favor of it,” Aquinnah planning board chair Jim Wallen said. 

Island Housing Trust representative Derrill Bazzy, referring to the housing bank, said a “game-changer” is needed to deal with the Island’s housing crisis.

Aquinnah select board member Juli Vanderhoop said, “The select board is highly in favor of this.” 

The measure will still go to voters on Thursday when Aquinnah voters go to the polls in a townwide election, and in Tisbury later this month, but it already has the full support of four towns. That’s all that was required in the legislation, but the coalition has said the full support of the Island would help sway the legislature to approve the 2 percent transfer fee on properties. 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 $200,000.

This is the third attempt at a housing bank on Martha’s Vineyard. The first in 2005 had agreement from all six Island towns and Island realtors, but was shot down by the state legislature when the Massachusetts Association of Realtors lobbied against it. A second attempt in 2019 to use 50 percent of the funds collected from the expanded rooms excise tax on rentals such as Airbnb and VRBO was shot down by town meetings, and got little to no buy-in from Island leaders.

In another housing issue, Aquinnah voters approved of Island Housing Trust developing four affordable housing rental units on a lot located behind the town hall. The town will be borrowing $400,000 over a 10-year term for these units. The annual debt service is estimated at a maximum annual cost of $46,000, and will be paid with Community Preservation Act funds. Another $22,000 from the Community Preservation committee’s housing reserve will be used toward the first payment on mortgage costs of borrowing for predevelopment and development costs of these units. 

Voters approved providing support for up-Island schools, voting in favor of Aquinnah transferring funds to pay for the town’s share of capital projects at Chilmark School and West Tisbury School. Aquinnah will transfer $7,970 its share for costs associated with purchasing and installing an emergency generator at Chilmark School, while $23,228 will be transferred for the town’s share for costs associated with replacing a portion of West Tisbury School’s roof. Additionally, Aquinnah residents approved the up-Island regional school district request to establish a special education stabilization fund.

An article seeking $200,000 in Proposition 2½ debt exclusion to fund engineering and schematic design costs related to renovating the town hall and offices and the comfort station at Aquinnah Circle faced some pushback. ICON Architecture principal Ned Collier presented possible designs for the projects, which showed bathrooms higher up the hill, and the town hall having a new basement area.

However, some voters expressed concern about how much the costs will be in the future. Voter Wendy Swolinzky pointed out that even just what was shown during the meeting cost $76,000, according to Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison, and the $200,000 will just be the start. 

Vanderhoop pointed out how being “aggressive” with the process, particularly with town hall and its offices, was needed because of the amount of wear and tear the building has been through. 

The $200,000 in Proposition 2½ debt exclusion was approved by voters. The override will still need to be approved on the ballot during Thursday’s town election. 

Voters approved transferring $6,000 from available funds to purchase an electronic voting system for town meetings, after the free trial from Meridia Interactive Solutions. 

Meanwhile, Aquinnah voters approved the proposed budget of $5.8 million for fiscal year 2023, which is an increase from the fiscal year 2022 budget of $5.6 million.

Updated to include more details from town meeting.

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