As housing bank and local option transfer fee legislation move through the State House, Island housing advocates continue to seek new alternatives that could help mitigate the housing crisis on Martha’s Vineyard.
Most recently, at a meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Housing Action Task Force, members heard from Kai Frolich, co-founder of Lease to Locals, a program that uses grants to incentivize property owners to rent out underutilized housing units to year-round residents.
The program is the largest project by Placemate, an online platform connecting local tenants with homeowners. Through partnerships with local governments and nonprofit organizations, the program offers financial incentives to property owners who convert housing units into both seasonal and long-term rentals for local residents of high-amenity areas, like resort communities.
Frolich says the concept for Lease to Locals originated upon a move with her husband to Truckee, Calif., a popular ski resort town, in 2018.
What they found when looking for housing, Frolich said, was that there were “tons of empty second homes,” and a number of short-term rentals that didn’t operate through the whole year.
Further, Frolich found that even if Truckee homeowners were interested in renting out their houses or available units to local residents, there wasn’t really a mechanism in place to match tenants with the units.
Placemate eventually connected with Truckee’s housing department, which had set aside money from the town’s short-term rental tax collections.
Frolich said the housing department suggested allocating some of the short-term rental tax revenue to Truckee homeowners who agree to rent unoccupied property to locals.
Since launching in Truckee in 2020, word of the Lease to Locals program spread regionally, Frolich says, and the company soon began a partnership with Breckenridge, Colo., before expanding to other towns and counties across the country.
One of the ways Lease to Locals can be a good option for resort communities, Frolich explained, is that instead of increasing housing production, the program works to convert existing housing stock.
The program is tailored to meet the unique needs of each community, Frolich explained, as each locale crafts the Lease to Local guidelines to best serve its residents. For example, municipalities can determine target property owners, priority housing needs, what units should or could be rented, and how incentive structure would work.
While Lease to Locals serves as liaison to property owners and housing sectors of local governments, it does not provide the funding for the incentive program. That money must come from other sources, like municipal housing trusts, nonprofits, or government grants.
To date, Lease to Locals has established programs throughout California, Colorado, and Idaho, and is responsible for matching more than 850 persons with local housing. Most recently, it partnered with the Vineyard’s sister island, Nantucket, just last month.