Airport housing is a no-fly zone

Martha’s Vineyard Airport officials break down why residential units are not allowed on airport properties. 

Residential units are not allowed to be built on airport properties, per FAA rules. — MV Times

It seems every time the Vineyard’s housing crisis is mentioned, someone in an online comment or on social media comes up with this solution: Locate affordable housing at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport and its business park. 

With a housing crisis that’s forced teachers to leave, kept Island businesses from hiring enough workers, and drove overwhelming support from voters for a Housing Bank, building on the airport’s ground sounds genius, right? There is land available, the area is not located near other houses where NIMBYism (not in my backyard) becomes an issue, and public transportation is nearby.

There’s just one problem. It can’t happen. 

“This topic rears its head once again,” Martha’s Vineyard Airport director Geoff Freeman said, asked by The Times to explain why airport housing is not feasible. Freeman has addressed the plausibility of constructing affordable housing units at airport grounds multiple times over the years. He said the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) code of compliance is “pretty black and white” regarding what it qualifies as “compatible land.” 

“We advised everyone and anyone that the airport cannot allow residential development on its property per FAA grant assurance obligations, and you can look that up in the FAA code of compliance 5190.6 B chapter 20: Any residential use on an airport or residential use granting through-the-fence access is incompatible land use,” Freeman said. “It is not allowed, and it has been told to every agency on this Island on numerous occasions for numerous years.”

Martha’s Vineyard Airport commission chair Bob Rosenbaum underscored the chances of this idea happening. 

“No way in hell,” Rosenbaum told The Times.

More specifically, Rosenbaum said, there were “several issues” with the idea of building affordable housing on the airport’s lands. Rosenbaum said the only type of housing allowed would be for the airport director, or short-term rentals like a hotel. 

“We have looked into this, and we have been asked several times about it,” Rosenbaum said. 

Another roadblock is regulations from the Federal Housing Administration. 

“The rules for affordable housing are that you can’t put affordable housing on any areas considered … basically substandard. Nobody wants to build a house next to a landfill,” Rosenbaum said. “Basically, any affordable housing has to be in an area that’s considered adequate for a nonaffordable house, if you will, and airport property is considered sort of not appropriate for residential housing. You won’t find people that would build a house on an airport because of the various issues: traffic, noise-related stuff.”

Rosenbaum said the commission “would love to do something, but it’s flat-out not possible.” 

Rosenbaum added that Nantucket is facing similar housing issues as Martha’s Vineyard. He said the Nantucket Memorial Airport commission has also been pondering the possibility of putting housing on its property. 

“They’ve been working for years to get something just for airport employees on the airport property, and it’s a no-go,” Rosenbaum said.

The Times reached out to the FAA on whether exceptions or code amendments could be made to allow affordable housing on airport lands. Spokesperson Elizabeth Isham Cory said in an email this was a question that needs to be directed to the “local government, and the airport sponsor.” Additionally, she said factors like zoning laws and the airport’s master plan would “come into play.” 

“Unfortunately, we cannot accommodate that in any way, shape, or form,” Freeman told The Times. “The FAA has advised us that they would not approve that in any way, shape, or form, and the best option would be for the towns to be looking at their own town-owned properties for these types of things.”

Even if the FAA rules allowed residential units, the airport does not have a lot of land available for affordable housing, Rosenbaum said. 

“The towns need to step up,” he said. As an example, Rosenbaum mentioned how “disappointing” it was when Chilmark did not add more affordable housing units to the Peaked Hill Pastures project (10 rental units, four units for ownership on six acres). “It doesn’t make sense. There is a significant amount of land around, but nobody wants to put in the density necessary to actually address the affordable housing issue on this Island.” 

Rosenbaum said projects of higher density, such as Island Housing Trust’s 20-unit Kuehn’s Way property in Tisbury, are needed for Martha’s Vineyard’s housing crisis. However, more apartment-like structures may also be needed. NIMBYism (not in my backyard) is a factor that limits the development of affordable housing on the Island, he added. “Everybody agrees we need affordable housing, just don’t put it anywhere near me,” Rosenbaum said.

Freeman suggested The Times contact Jorge Panteli, who is the compliance and land use specialist of the New England region, for more information about the FAA’s rules and potential amendments. Panteli did not respond to messages left by The Times.

Rosenbaum told The Times he does not expect the federal regulations to see amendments to allow affordable housing units at the airport during his lifetime. 


  1. i believe that the airport commission allows hotels but not homes. why can’t we work with that? low budget high volume short term rentals ( nightly) could work for the seasonal housing crisis. i’d like to know if this would be possible?

    • Jim, we looked into doing something similar to a Residence Inn but that is not allowed either. All the hotels that are on airport property such as those at Logan, JFK, LAX etc. are short term stay hotels without any kitchen facilities. All of the Residence Inn style hotels are outside the airport.

  2. Guilty as charged… so let me clarify my stance. Build housing in the vicinity of the airport and not within the property. There is an abundance of land with that area. I don’t think anyone was proposing that we build on runway 1 Alpha.

  3. Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to live in an expensive resort community for discount prices.

    • Truth. And then we get to listen to harangues about how unsafe our roads are for cars and bikes because, you know, there are too many cars and bikes for our roads. Incredible disconnect.

  4. Great idea Jim. Regarding what the FAA will or will not allow, these are post Covid times where rentals and home prices are 40% higher then three years ago and we need help! Workers and business owners need help or there will be no shops, restaurants,
    camps, tours etc for app the people that come here. Maybe our prestigious homeowners who worked in Washington can help 🤔😉

    • Help with what? The mindset that validates an economy utterly dependent on more and more visitors and wealthy home buyers to give islanders their food and rent? I’m afraid that ship has sailed.

      There are other jobs in life besides catering to tourists and wealthy people, jobs that actually contribute to infrastructure and the health, safety, education, and security of islanders.

      The concern for housing for teachers and nurses is nothing compared with the concern for more restaurants, shops, and tours. Every time there is an article mentioning the housing bank, (or the fact that one can’t safely ride a bike on the island anymore) there is this call for more people (who can’t afford it) to move here to service visitors and wealthy home owners.

      • Thumbs up for your insight. More housing means more of everything, the Vineyard has reached is maximum for summer tourism. 39 years on the Vineyard and I have seen it ruined by greed and over building. Don’t even start on the underbelly of how this all came to be 50 years before it’s time, but we all know how it happened and yet no one wants to talk about it.

        • Eric… I respect your opinion on the density issue but I don’t understand your comment on how this all came to be. What is it that no one wants to talk about? My guess how this came to be is that it’s a beautiful place to live and many want to be a part of it. If I’m being naive please share your reasoning. And I mean that respectfully.

          • Carl– There are lots of “clickbait” ads on the internet that state ” the this or that that they don’t want you to know about” or ” the this or that no one is talking about”
            I don’t know– It seems to me that at least on this forum, we cover just about everything..
            I am also curious as to how Eric thinks all this happened and that we all know it– I’m willing to talk about it.
            But one thing is that since I first arrived on the Vineyard 35 years ago, the population of the U.S has increased by over 100 million people (42%) — That might have something to do with it–
            Or the fact that the U.S economy has boomed over the last 35 years and people have more disposable income and more travel options..
            Eric– I hope my little foray into “talking about it” here will trigger a response from you.
            And I mean that respectfully.

          • Don,
            My thoughts were kind of along the same lines. I knew this stats but to be reminded of them is still eye opening.

      • This is a problem not unique to island communities. Teachers cannot buy homes within 25 miles of Boston on a single income either… although they have the option of driving an hour to work from a more distant location. Average home prices over $1 million are commonplace in the suburbs of Boston, and rental options, while many, are increasingly un-affordable.
        Teacher salaries on-island were recently published and appear to be low relative to off-island. Surely that is part of the equation here.
        With regards to nurses and other healthcare providers, the off-island pay-scale is more rewarding, and income in the $120-150k/yr range is not uncommon, albeit at the seniority end of the scale. Wonder how the local healthcare salaries compare….
        “Density” concerns aside – building affordable rental housing on-island seems be relatively less-discussed.

  5. In the 1930s, all kinds of people lived in hotels. But gradually SROs got a bad name for being substandard flophouses and were zoned out. But they needn’t be crummy. Why couldn’t a good quality, low-cost hotel be a small part of the accommodation solution?

  6. Love how the wealthy and famous jump for cheap housing for their servant underclass. But hey, they’re entitled to maintain their elite lifestyle on a ridiculously priced resort island enclave. Right? How about starting a movement to voluntarily build one good quality, low cost dwelling on each property > 1 acre to house those making < 100k a year in the tourist industry? Start with the up-island crowd. Put your money where your mouth is! Might even get a book out of it

    • The mortgage we can afford. The taxes we can’t. There are plenty of places now where monthly property taxes are more expensive than principle and interest.

      • According to a home in Tisbury valued at $700,000 owes $3710 in property taxes, less than half of the average property tax in Massachusetts.

        If $3710 per year is more than the total of one’s principle and interest each month I’d like to get a mortgage from that bank. Chilmark has the lowest property tax rate in MA – 2.82%. Edgartown comes in at number 3 at 3.03% and West Tisbury is the ninth lowest property tax rate at 5.82%. Longmeadow has a whopping 24.64% tax rate.

        If property owners add accessory dwellings that they earn income from, the value of the property might go up – because they are earning income. However, towns can offer tax incentives to those willing to add affordable living spaces on their properties that are prioritized first to year round residents within set income guidelines, and then to summer workforce housing.

        • Jane,
          Thank you so much for your post. I’m not sure why I am paying over 3x what I should be based on the calculation from the source you referenced. Great info for a tax appeal.

  7. Nobody is ever going to come here again because it’s too crowded.

    I guess I have to attribute that comment to Yogi Berra , or I will be accused of plagiarism.

  8. I understand the concern that affordable housing might bring more people.

    On the flip side, couldn’t affordable housing give workers and families who are already here a decent place to live; a clean place without mold or a leaky roof and even has heat and insulation for the winter?
    Even more, not having to pack up your entire family and pets for the for the biannual “Island Shuffle”.

  9. “No way in hell.” “Flat out impossible.” These comments by Mr. Rosenbaum are harsh and dismissive. Words in a public article that encourage creative solutions would be more appropriate from the chairman of the Airport Commission. Even if it is a difficult problem to resolve. Maybe the Airport Commission needs a media consultant?

  10. Thanks for this informative piece — I think many of us have thought about whether it was possible to build apartments in that central area. Not Air B&B’d, not tourist oriented, but for year round as well as available for J1’s, etc. (I think Stop & Shop should have relocated if it were possible…) It would be helpful if there were a map included in this piece showing the extent of the airport land in relationship to the land to the north of it. Where does the FAA land end? Where do the Tennis Club and Goodales’s etc. begin…and what’s in between?

    • I hope the Times does a follow-up piece like you suggest. This article was one-sided, a blatant attempt to corral public support for the HB by dismissing a reasonable alternative.

  11. One more thought. Seems the charity auctions do well here on the island. Why not an annual auction similar to ‘Possible Dreams’ where the raised monies go towards student-loan forgiveness for island-employed teachers and healthcare employees ? Seems to me that anything that lessens the cost-of-living burden here would make housing at least a bit more affordable….

    • Brilliant idea to raise money for teachers and health care workers. Put the money directly into the hands of the people who need it. It’s not a “housing crisis”, it’s a wage crisis.

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