Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank advocates were watching the state legislature closely this week, with the hopes that a home rule petition for a transfer fee on Nantucket would be approved.
But in a procedural move after seeing the writing on the wall, Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, made a decision to withdraw his amendment to the omnibus economic development bill. It was unlikely to pass, and Cyr didn’t want that — not with the momentum building for a transfer fee all around the state, and with Maura Healey as a strong candidate for governor. Even if it had passed, Cyr was concerned there was a strong possibility that Gov. Charlie Baker would veto it.
“If it’s going to be a no, you don’t want the body on record,” Cyr told The Times. “We’re going to come back on this issue, so you don’t want the body on record as a no.”
That happened in the House, a disappointing turn of events for affordable housing advocates who feel that Rep. Michael Connolly, D, rushed that vote.
Disappointed housing advocates on Nantucket, which has worked closely with its neighboring Island, blamed the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, which has been opposed to the transfer fee. On Martha’s Vineyard, realtors showed strong support for a 2 percent transfer fee that would be collected 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.
Describing it as a marathon and not a sprint, Cyr said he intends to introduce the Martha’s Vineyard transfer fee bill next session, and with what he hopes will be Healey — who is on record as supporting the fee — at the helm.
“We kind of are at Heartbreak Hill. We are into this. The more that people understand and my colleagues understand the dire situation we’re in … You might not realize how fundamentally the rules have changed in home ownership,” he said, noting he can’t even afford a home in his district. “One of the biggest and most creative challenges is our failure on housing production. I’m broadly optimistic about a transfer fee moving forward, even though I’m disappointed we couldn’t get it done with the Nantucket amendment.”
Cyr equates the momentum with the short-term rental tax, which was resisted but ultimately won support as communities pushed the legislature into action.
Martha’s Vineyard voters overwhelmingly supported a Housing Bank at town meetings and in town elections this spring. A review committee is in the process of offering amendments to the home rule petition, which Cyr and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, will introduce next session.
“My goal is to get this done early in Gov. Healey’s tenure,” Cyr said. “See if we can get it done in the governor’s first budget.”
Though disappointed that it will take longer for their neighbors to ease their housing crunch, Martha’s Vineyard advocates understand why Cyr did what he did.
“Senator Cyr made repeated efforts to move the critically needed Nantucket Housing Bank/Transfer Fee Amendment. He withdrew the amendment in order to avoid a damaging negative vote in the face of opposition from Senate leadership orchestrated by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, “ Dan O’Connell, a member of the executive committee for the Coalition to Create the MV Housing Bank, and the state’s former housing and economic development secretary, told The Times. “Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket real estate professionals overwhelmingly support the effort, and together, the Islands will prevail in the next legislative session.”