Another shot at short-term rental revenue

Housing group considers ways to fund affordable housing initiatives.

Members of this affordable housing group see short term rental taxes collected as a source of potential Housing Bank funds.

At a Wednesday meeting, Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s joint affordable housing group honed in on how to encourage Island towns’ select boards to begin considering use of revenue from short-term rental (STR) taxes for affordable housing for year-round residents. 

Since the short-term rental tax bill was codified in 2018 and went into effect in 2019, Martha’s Vineyard towns have accumulated millions of dollars from the state-mandated 5.7 percent lodging fee on top of enforcing municipal fees, ranging from 4 to 6 percent on STRs. 

With a handful of town administrators vehemently opposed to allocating STR revenue toward creating affordable housing, questioning the consistency of the new influx of money and citing the need to accrue data over time, affordable housing representatives have begun talks on how to aggressively push the issue into the spotlight. 

With little help from select boards, the joint affordable housing group is charged with coming up with an effective and presentable plan that will entice residents to support the efforts.

Laura Silber, coordinator for the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank and newly appointed MVC housing planner, explained that the issue can be broken down into two parts. The first, she said, is how to secure and then use potential funding through the STR revenue; the second is the local ordinances that would need to be in place that would determine future local bylaws.

Silber expressed the need to conduct comprehensive research regarding ordinances that could regulate STRs; one example, she said, is preventing corporations from being able to buy into existing residential housing stock with the goal of turning it into an STR. 

Another, Silber offered, would be upping the amount of tax placed on STRs to the maximum amount. Since the beginning of the STR tax collections, Edgartown, Chilmark, and Aquinnah have opted to charge 4 percent for rentals on top of state tax, while Tisbury, West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs require a 6 percent fee. 

In Edgartown, for example, Silber said, if given the opportunity to decide, voters may agree to increasing the tax, which could potentially incentivize the town to allow for the additional 2 percent to go toward affordable housing projects. 

Regarding the revenues, town administrator James Hagerty has been consistently hesitant to allocate STR collections for anything specific. Instead, the town has chosen to put the money in a stabilization fund. If any changes were to happen, it would have to be on a warrant article and voted upon at town meetings.

West Tisbury affordable housing committee member Jefrey DuBard, appointed by the town’s Community Preservation committee, said he is working up support for a potential warrant article that would allow “a significant portion of the short-term rental tax income be allotted to the town’s affordable housing committee,” and would ultimately be voted upon at future town meetings on an annual basis. “It’s an important thing that we get in place,” he said. “This short-term rental income is kind of going into the abyss right now, in every town.” 

DuBard said the goal would be to get his town to put 75 percent of the STR revenue into affordable housing. Originally, he said, he wanted to propose the entirety of the tax collections made its way to the municipal housing trust. “This is the most important issue at hand,” DuBard continued; “this is a source of revenue that was designated because of a practice that is in direct opposition to secure, year-round housing — period.”

Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee chair Mark Leonard responded, relaying his experience with bringing up the STR revenue-funded housing concept to his town’s administrator and select board. Leonard noted that town administrator Deborah Potter has taken to, at every select board meeting, repeatedly citing — verbatim — her position opposing setting aside STR funds for any reason. Mirroring Hagerty’s stance, Potter has been avidly against even discussing the possibility of using said funds. Leonard said he’s met with “massive amounts of pushback” by the town upon broaching the subject.

“It’s an uphill battle,” he said, “and I suggested only 10 percent.” 

David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, noted the difference between investment STR properties and owner-occupied STRs. The latter, he said, “is a wonderful thing,” as it does not involve a reformation of neighborhoods, but rather, allows year-round residents extra income by meeting housing demands. 

However, Vigneault honed in on the most concerning issue: “the inability of the towns to even make a token statement by putting some funding from the proceeds from STRs into their municipal housing trust funds.”

On the complexities of creating a plan that appeals to towns and also allows for Island-wide collaboration, Tisbury planning board member and MVC commissioner Ben Robinson noted, “We’re at a point where we ought to try.” He said there are plans to hold an all-Island planning board meeting Nov. 9 to discuss how to begin those discussions.


  1. Well, this is one of the most poorly written and cited articles I’ve read in any “newspaper”. Still, I’ll offer some thoughts and queries as a Chilmark owner/landlord.
    First, as with other islanders, even though the property has been in the family for more than 60 years, I have no prospect or chance of occupying it. The cost is out of reach.
    So, I rent it out for the summer season in order that I may visit my family home for 2 weeks of the year. In order that I may pay the taxes due and repair the screens as needed, I rent it out. Now comes the STR tax of 11%. I am a homeowner and not a profit-driven corporation. I need to derive every dollar from rentals just to keep visiting the island and walking the trails I did and seeing the beaches I did as a child, in the hope that I can pass the experience to my own children. It is a diminishing vision.
    Why is this windfall of “millions of dollars” to the towns from the new tax on my and other’s rentals going “into the abyss”? Into whose coffers is going this treasure?
    The island has been been bickering and debating “affordable housing” for decades. There are 6 or 7 commissions dedicated to addressing the issue, with absolutely no solution in sight.

    But wait. Surely the answer is to raise the taxes.

    Will Graves

    • While I certainly understand the impact short-term rental tax has on you, I’m not sure why you had to disparage the reporter to make your comment. She reported on a meeting of Island officials. Perhaps instead of blaming the messenger, you might want to attend their next meeting and get your points across to them.

  2. If I observe frequent (1 – 2 weeks) changes in the occupants of a house, how can I check to see if they are registered as short-term renters and paying the town their tax?

    • Yes just what we need more people spying on their neighbors and getting involved in their business. The problem with society today is everybody wants to Control what other people are doing. There used to be a phrase called mind your own business. Today everybody wants to be in everybody else’s business.

  3. Of course I recognize that some towns treat this money as “found money” and are reluctant to let it leave the coffers, so to speak. But I voted for this tax in order to increase housing potential on Martha’s Vineyard, not to randomly increase the income of the Town of Oak Bluffs where I live. It would be good, I think, for the foot-draggers on this issue to live as itinerant homeless people for a week or so, to get a taste of the problems inherent on a personal level. We need the towns to take a more active role, and for the elected officials of the towns to have a bit more empathy for what has become, in my opinion, the number one problem facing the Vineyard at this time. The “other paper” helpfully showed an article published in 1999 that decried the lack of housing here. When will we stop talking and start doing?

  4. The Town of Aquinnah, where weekly rental tax has been far below $150,000 a year, it is not fair to chip away at such a small amount from the Tiny Town when it is already burdened with inequitable school and Tri town ambulance assesments.
    I am aware that the Land Bank at times works together with affordable housing efforts, but cash is whats needed here for the affordable housing innitiatives.
    I feel strongly that the Land Bank should be providing a small percentage of what they recieve from home sales (which would equal millions of dollars) to the housing bank and not from small cash strapped towns.

    Also want to mention , regarding some of the comments here, that online rental platforms (and hopefully real estae agencies as well) collect this new state mandated tax from the renters not the home owners.

    • In the end the home owners pay.
      The tax is part of the total cost of the rental.
      Renters look at total cost of the rental.

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