‘We don’t have years to wait’

Affordable housing group discusses potential new housing initiative.

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A proposed affordable housing initiative put forth Wednesday would aim to create a program that assists homeowners in converting additional dwelling units into year-round living units.

At their Wednesday meeting, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s joint affordable housing group began discussions on a possible new solution to the Island’s housing crisis.

At their Nov. 2 meeting, the affordable housing group had discussed ways of encouraging Island select boards to reconsider using revenue from short-term rental (STR) tax to help fund housing initiatives, in hopes of alleviating the effects of the housing crisis on Vineyarders. 

With town administrators across the Island generally opposed to allocating specific percentages of STR collections toward municipal housing trusts, the affordable housing group is charged with coming up with alternative plans on how to dip into STR money to fund initiatives, and how best to present the plans to select boards so they may be more likely to be approved. 

“It needs to be a specific plan to bring to the powers that be, that they can get behind,” Jefrey DuBard said on Wednesday. “It needs to be something actionable … a concrete use of the money that would be harder to say no to.”

A presentation by DuBard, who serves on the West Tisbury affordable housing committee, on a potential program that would allow for an increase in housing stock through accessory dwelling units (ADUs) was subsequently met with across-the-board support by group members. 

DuBard proposed that on an annual basis, a certain amount of a given town’s short-term rental collections would go to an ADU program that aims to financially assist residents who have a structure — such as a garage or guest house — on their property that could be converted into a year-round home. 

The ADUs would be restricted to AMI (area median income), DuBard said, and would allow homeowners to take part in supporting their fellow Islanders by offering local housing options. 

The ADU program would essentially serve to subsidize costs associated with predevelopment of the structure conversion, and help facilitate the construction.

DuBard said he has reached out to the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital for preliminary talks on how the proposed ADU program could particularly work to house some of the Island’s skilled workforce. 

DuBard said that in West Tisbury, the goal remains to encourage town officials to agree to putting 75 percent of the STR tax into the program. In West Tisbury, 75 percent would amount to around $400,000. To help financially with an estimated $20,000 project of converting one additional dwelling unit, DuBard said, the ADU program could potentially help create 20 housing options in West Tisbury alone. “Within six months or less, a housing option can be created,” he said. 

Charter School teacher Casey Hayward pointed out that the ADU program as presented may not be a suitable option for some Islanders who have families or pets, as not only would the dwellings be fairly small, but tenancy would be at the homeowner’s discretion. 

“We are not benefiting families with this idea,” she said. “This will serve certain people, but it’s not family housing.” 

 

“If we continue to think about every initiative we take on as one that needs to serve everybody, we’re not going to get anything done,” DuBard replied. “We need to find individual solutions to sort of chip away at these problems.” 

DuBard added that the ADU programs could potentially benefit larger families by merely having the option of turning part of their property into income. Additionally, he said, perhaps families might be willing to consider buying property that they would not have before, because of that option. 

Building new, larger dwellings to add into the housing stock, he said, obviously increases construction, takes longer, and cuts counter to the ultimate goal of using existing structures for affordable housing options. “We need solutions to create housing stock quickly,” DuBard said, “we don’t have years to wait for all of this … These are applications that can realistically create housing — quickly — without new construction.”

Hayward took issue with the idea that a family would opt to live in a garage or guesthouse on someone else’s property, and said more consideration should be given to finding a solution to family housing. 

“We need to be realistic,” DuBard said, “and strive for progress, not perfection … An 800-square-foot, two-bedroom converted garage is certainly a space that a young family could live in.” 

David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, confirmed a high demand for one-bedroom housing, and called the ADU concept “a more than decent” way of adding to housing stock, considering most state funding goes to two- and three-bedroom homes.

Tisbury planning board member and MVC commissioner Ben Robinson noted the difficulty of monitoring how any rentals will be used — similar to STRs — which DuBard agreed would need further addressing in the future. 

Laura Silber, MVC’s newly appointed housing planner, seconded the eventual need to create some sort of Island-wide monitoring system to ensure compliance with local rentals or affordable housing dwellings. 

West Tisbury planning board member Amy Upton harkened back to her experience with the well-known Vineyard shuffle, oftentimes years of changing living situations with the seasons. “That whole system has essentially collapsed,” she said. 

The proposed ADU program is “the first puzzle piece that replaces that system,” she said, noting that it wouldn’t be restricted in the same way that many affordable housing options are.

Additionally, she said, it would allow for Vineyarders, who perhaps grew up on the Island, and may have raised a family here, but don’t necessarily have the means to create additional housing on their property, to be part of the solution to the housing crisis. 

“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said. “It’s a way of salvaging the middle of our community, which is being shredded, as we all know.” 

DuBard said he plans on garnering more supporters and bringing the concept to Island select boards in the near future.