On Nov. 2, in what might seem like a step backward regarding the proposed Housing Bank, the committee appointed to review and modify the Housing Bank legislation had to make the difficult decision to pull back and rework the act, following comments and recommendations by State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, a week earlier.
At their Oct. 24 meeting, the Housing Bank Review Committee (HBRC) discussed how best to move forward with the 27-page proposed legislation, and was ultimately told by Cyr and Fernandes that the lofty act would most likely need to undergo significant changes in order to be seriously considered by the state.
In addition to concerns about the length of the act at their Oct. 24 meeting, Cyr and Fernandes informed the committee of their intent to file statewide enabling legislation that would streamline the transfer fee portion of the home rule petition, along with that of all other municipalities in the commonwealth.
After years in the making and a failed attempt in 2018 to create a Housing Bank, the home-rule petition was finally agreed upon, overwhelmingly, by all six Island towns at their town meetings this past spring.
The review committee, consisting of representatives from all six towns, then sought input from government reps on how to avoid facing the same fate as Nantucket, where a similarly structured bill was withdrawn due to its unlikeliness to pass through Republican Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this year.
What was meant to be an informative meeting on how to navigate the process of submitting legislation became a recommendation to greatly modify the already Island-approved bill.
At their Wednesday meeting, the review committee mulled over the comments made by Cyr and Fernandes, and discussed two options: Should the Island take their chances and continue with the legislation as is, or would it be best to take time to modify the document, in hopes that the state would be more likely to codify it?
Although committee members eventually reached consensus on the latter, the decision was not one taken lightly.
With the transfer fee aspect of the act slated to be no longer the responsibility of the Island, per the upcoming legislation to be filed by Fernandes, the committee discussed whether the changes proposed would be palatable to Islanders.
Committee member and Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty aired his concern regarding the “very substantive changes that have been requested” by state reps, calling it “a paradigm shift” from what was approved at town meetings. “I get concerned that we’re kind of going off the wrong path,” he said.
Hagerty’s sentiment was echoed by all committee members, but the clear necessity and urgency of the creation of a Housing Bank ultimately took precedence.
“Above all, what the voters really wanted,” said Aquinnah housing committee chair and town moderator Mike Herbert, “is to establish a Housing Bank.”
If the committee agrees to slim down the legislation and remove details on how the Housing Bank will work on-Island, committee chair and Chilmark select board chair Jim Malkin suggested a potential memorandum of understanding, at the county level, that would allow Island town reps to work together on specifics. Committee members all agreed.
In the effort to get the legislation passed through the necessary steps on its way to ratification, the HBRC agreed to establish a working group — Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee chair Mark Leonard, Tisbury finance committee member Rachel Orr, and Cyr staffer Michael Holcomb, district director — that would be tasked with reconstructing the bill before presenting it to Island select boards in December. With blessings of the towns, the committee would then submit the legislation to the state for consideration in the upcoming legislative session.
On Tuesday, the committee convened again, and Leonard updated the committee on how the process has been going within the past week. He explained the breaking down of the act into three areas of focus, or “buckets”: the M.V. Housing Bank legislation, the proposed transfer fee — which is set to be part of a statewide initiative to be “streamlined” — and the proposed memorandum of understanding among Island towns regarding the Housing Bank’s local policy.
Referring to the full 27-page bill, and the specific language therein, Malkin harkened to “the concern of whether [the HBRC] has the authority or the ability to change, in any significant way, or modify the act,” which was approved by voters at town meetings.
Orr relayed the language from the Housing Bank warrant article regarding the scope of the authority HRBC has for changes.
Per the approved article, she said, the act can be amended by the advisory panel, “provided that [it] shall be subject, to the maximum extent possible,” to certain parameters.
Parts of the act that can’t be amended, according to the article, include the acceptance of original member towns, the eventual creation of the Housing Bank Commission and municipal advisory boards, and the intent and general activities of the Housing Bank.
Additionally, Orr noted, that the warrant article “authorizes the select board[s] to approve amendments which shall be within the scope of the general public objectives of the Housing Bank Act.”
Ultimately, “the power really rests with the select boards,” said Malkin, “before anything goes to the legislature.” He suggested asking town administrators to arrange a joint select board meeting to “see what their will would be in terms of us going forward … They have the power, not this group.”
Hagerty questioned whether it would be necessary to go before all select boards for approval. He said the chances of arranging “an all-Island select board [meeting], with a 100 percent concurrence, in the next few weeks is slim to none.”
Malkin said if the committee were to make the changes recommended by state representatives, — slimming down the bill and divvying up the act in three parts in order to provide a greater chance of passage through the state — it would be ideal to run it by select boards.
Regarding proposed amendments that have been submitted by local organizations and residents — such as those from Vineyard Conservation Society, which highlight the need to enforce more strict environmental regulations — Hagerty said it would be “too granular” to add into what will be sent to the state, “based on what we’re trying to achieve now.”
Orr mentioned a suggested amendment from VCS would be worth considering, as it refers to prohibiting the Housing Bank Commission from receiving gifts or “a contribution that comes with strings that are counter to the purposes of the act.” She said it would be “logical’ to make that small addition to the legislation.
The committee subsequently approved changing the act’s language regarding gifting in an unanimous vote.
Leonard suggested an amendment that would change the composition of the town advisory boards to the Housing Bank Commission, from two housing committee members to one, in addition to one member from the board of assessors. The committee voted to approve the change.
Herbert mentioned part of a proposed amendment to the act put forth by West Tisbury resident Michael Colaneri, who suggested that elected members of the Housing Bank Commission not be compensated for their service. Herbert said the positions ought to be on a volunteer basis, similar to that of other Island boards and committees.
Leonard said it would be a “major change” if the committee were to take up that amendment.
Silber clarified that the particular issue of compensation in the act is “open-ended and not prohibited,” and would need to be approved in a two-thirds vote at future town meetings.