Commission’s housing task force holds inaugural meeting

State Sen. Julian Cyr urged Islanders to take action in regard to municipal-level policy and zoning changes to help alleviate the impacts of the housing crisis. — MV Times

Politicians and representatives from off-Island communities urged Vineyard residents and officials not to delay efforts to mitigate the Island’s housing crisis Thursday evening, during the first meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Housing Action Task Force.

Drawing around 80 attendees, the newly created task force’s inaugural meeting served as a weighty reminder of the urgency of implementing drastic change in order to combat the acute housing shortage on Martha’s Vineyard.

Spearheaded by MVC’s Island housing planner, Laura Silber, the group aims to be a centralized forum for all things housing, in order to be able to address each of the particular nuances of the crisis. 

The goals of the group are multifaceted, and involve collecting and analyzing updated data from Island towns, gaining knowledge from other similarly situated communities, and engaging state representatives and local leaders. 

MVC executive director Adam Turner kicked off Thursday’s forum by highlighting the need to tackle the Island’s housing crisis in a proactive and progressive way. 

That includes focusing on a number of goals and objectives, some of which are already underway. 

The commission has been working collaboratively with not just local boards and committees, but state organizations to help better understand the breadth of the crisis. These include Housing to Protect Cape Cod and Islands, the Massachusetts Association of Regional Planning Agencies (MARPA), and the Rural Policy Advisory Council, among others. 

At the request of the Island’s planning boards, the MVC will be conducting an Islandwide short-term rental study, which is currently in its first phase of creating a scope of work.

The commission is also working on updating its older affordable housing zoning assessment, along with assisting towns with crafting new accessory dwelling unit (ADU) bylaws. 

Leslie Sandberg, select board member from Provincetown, shared her town’s experience dealing with their housing crisis.

Provincetown, another Massachusetts resort community, has been working hard to address the issue in the past few years, making incremental strides to ensure housing stability for its residents. Sandberg said the select board has been especially focused on the problem.

The median home price in Provincetown is around $1.9 million, Sandberg said. “The skyrocketing prices coupled with the year-round inventory has put pressure on our year-round community.”

Provincetown officials have been putting money into its year-round market rental housing trust, which had been created via a home-rule petition almost a decade ago. That trust is largely fueled by revenue from short-term rental tax.

This past town meeting, Provincetown voters approved the creation of a year-round deed restriction program, which is to be managed by the aforementioned trust. Its goal is to create housing inventory for year-round residents, through incentivization. 

It allows the town to purchase deed restrictions from homeowners and developers “to permanently limit the occupancy of a given unit via a year-round housing occupancy restriction for rental or housing ownership.”

The town has also just recently created a transportation pilot program that fills in service gaps left by the Cape Cod Transit Authority. The purpose is to financially assist those who work in the town in their commute to and from Provincetown.

The town’s short-term rental revenue, which exceeds $5 million, is divided among a handful of areas, including the year-round market rate trust and the affordable housing trust. A large part of that goes to substantial affordable housing projects. “We’re trying to funnel as much money as possible to housing,” Sandberg said.

Last year, the town also imposed an additional 3 percent community impact fee on short-term rentals that are considered “professionally managed units” (owners with a certain amount of rental units), per the Massachusetts Rental Law.

Generally, “how do we fund everything?” Sandberg asked. “Short-term rental revenue.”

“If Provincetown can do this, you can do this,” she said to her Island cohorts. “But what I would say to you is, don’t delay.”

She said her town did delay action up until recently, and the consequences were dire. “We’ve lost some very important people and businesses,” she said, reiterating, “Please don’t delay.” 

Tucker Holland, Nantucket’s municipal housing director. seconded Sandberg’s plea. “I encourage you to start now,” he said to Vineyard attendees. “Go as quickly as you are able to go.”

Martha’s Vineyard is lucky, he said, as its residents have “a crystal ball — It’s called Nantucket.”

The median home price on the Vineyard’s sister island now hovers over $3 million. Martha’s Vineyard is not too far behind.

Beginning in 2019, Nantucket voters have approved around $70 million toward housing efforts. This is in addition to the recent approval of a $6.5 million permanent override at its town meeting. That money will also go toward housing initiatives. Those initiatives involve both new construction and repurposing existing buildings, in order to support the year-round community and its economy. 

Islanders also heard from State Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro) Thursday, who, while sharing his concern for what the future may hold for Martha’s Vineyard housing, offered ways Island towns can keep up their momentum regarding this issue. 

“What we’re up against here is quite steep,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is because of a failure in leadership to anticipate these needs and issues in the last several decades.”

“We’re now in the position where year-round people cannot make a life on the Island,” he said. “In part, because of the inaction, and because it’s taken us so long to realize what’s going on.”

This puts Islanders and nearby community members in a challenging spot, he said. “We’re going to have to marshal every and all resources as an Island and as a region, to really push back on persistent and misguided NIMBYism.” 

That NIMBY (“Not in my backyard”) mentality upends the ability of people, largely the younger generations, “to even envision a life on the Island,” he said.

To its detriment, political leadership has “too often hid behind conservationism and historic conservation and environmentalism” when it comes to addressing the needs of year-round residents, he said. 

“We’re now in a position where you need to make hundreds of thousands of dollars as a household to be able to even dream of affording a home … It’s completely out of reach.” This is especially true for the younger generations, Cyr said. 

Housing on the Vineyard is no longer valued on how much someone can afford in a given year, he added, but rather “valued on what [short-term renters are] willing to pay by the night.” 

But there are ways to move forward, Cyr said, highlighting main focal points: infrastructure, revenue, and policy.

Wastewater management and upgrades are key, he said, considering the Islands’ environmental fragility when it comes to balancing needed infrastructure expansion with nitrogen and phosphorus mitigation efforts.

Cyr suggested that the Island towns take part in the regional water protection fund, which is backed by placing an additional 2.75 percent surcharge on lodging and rentals. That fund helps to offset the cost of wastewater and water quality projects. Town select boards are able to decide whether to take part in that initiative.

Preserving existing housing and creating new units both require making use of revenue, he said. In addition to the local option transfer fee — which will hopefully become the mechanism for funding the Housing Bank upon its codification at the State House — Cyr said Island towns must utilize existing, stable revenue sources to help pay for housing initiatives — specifically, collections from the short-term rental tax.

He said a number of nearby communities have already dedicated a portion, or all, of that tax toward housing.

Municipalities must be willing to make amendments to local land-use policies, zoning bylaws, and enforcing deed restrictions, Cyr said. But those changes can’t be done at a state level. Things like enacting timeshare restrictions, regulating short-term rentals, and creating ADU programs must come from the towns themselves. 

There’s “no one silver bullet,” he said. “We’re going to need an all-of-the-above approach.”

The senator offered some additional food for thought to the meeting’s attendees, largely made up of local board and committee members, upon his closing remarks.

“Think about how you came to the Island,” he said. “Whether you were born there, or whether you came over — I’m sure there’s some great stories there, right? I can assure you, that how you did it would likely not be possible today.” 

Cyr said that ought to be motivation for “the swift and rapid shift that we need to take to preserve the viability of our community and ensure that all six towns on the Island are places that can sustain a vibrant year-round community.”


  1. It is a sad commentary on the previous generations to have dragged their feet and not made good strides — but dwelling on that after a moment is not the direction, although the acknowledgement is real.

    Martha’s Vineyard moves at such a slow pace and, frankly, a lot people in positions of power, without naming names, are still more interested in the development and business end of winning approvals. It’s disgusting. Not to mention that they fight for people from the mainland to own overpriced businesses!

    We need what they are saying in the article and we do have a crystal ball, Nantucket, as they say. Sadly, I don’t see much changing. People who are in charge and people who own the properties, and others who are retired here, and the NIMBY’s are dramatically disconnected from reality or don’t care and think the problem will solve itself. They barely hear about it? These are people who tend to care about things when it affects them and forget about it otherwise. They are more interested in suing their neighbors over a view.

    I really don’t hold out much hope, the fact that Selectboard members, like in Edgartown, still vote against projects, and that our towns wait, wait, wait. My advice would be to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good — or even the acceptable. It is an emergency and unless you know someone, it seems abstract to most people, even those who sit on our boards and councils. It’s not true for all of them and for all retirees, etc. – I am not speaking to you if you are one of those people who are awake and alert.

  2. Think it’s more than NIMBY it’s the over all support ie wastewater infrastructure & taxing being main source of support is not the best soultion

  3. How about realizing that ‘TAXING’ is essentially punishing the folks that have worked hard to get what they have – with no subsidies. Will all the affordable housing be tax exempt? As I have said many times before- the State needs to step and fund – Infrastructure improvements to handle the population explosion and Municiple housing for the workers who can’t afford to live where they work.
    BTW – I commute 2 1/2 hrs daily because I can’t afford to live where I work, but that is a fruitless conversation on the island because everybody deserves to live here, and apparently commuting is too hard and inconvenient.
    Taxing the bejesus out of the home owners is not siting well with your constituents.

    • “apparently commuting is too hard and inconvenient” You’ve obviously never been in Vineyard Haven when the 7am and 8am boats unload. Or Oak Bluffs when the Patriot unloads. I’d be willing to bet that well over 1000 workers commute to the island daily..

      • Do commuting workers improve the the Island’s quality of life.
        Do they just grab what they can and leave?

  4. Nothing here about the elderly of the island and their housing needs. Island Elderly Housing (IEH) has been providing quality housing for over 40 years, but their Oak Bluffs project is being held up by The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) even though the town of Oak Bluffs and the rest of the island approve of it. What’s going on? Why the legal chicanery? The MVC is part of the problem! And THEY are leading the housing task force?! “The Fox is in the hen house.)

Comments are closed.