Oak Bluffs considers housing municipal workers

Oak Bluffs is looking to potentially set aside units at Southern Tier for municipal employees. —Eunki Seonwoo

Oak Bluffs is looking to provide housing for municipal employees. 

During a meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, the Oak Bluffs Select Board unanimously approved preparing a letter to the state with the intention of setting aside units for municipal employees at the Southern Tier affordable housing project. Southern Tier is an Island Housing Trust project seeking to add 60 units of housing in Oak Bluffs. The board plans to review the letter before sending it. 

Oak Bluffs would be following the heels of Nantucket in reserving housing for municipal employees. Martha’s Vineyard Commission Island housing planner Laura Silber said Nantucket filed a request with the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Liveable Communities to put a “permanent municipal employee preference” on a small number of units in a publicly funded, affordable housing project that is underway. 

Silber said the request is a way for Nantucket to find housing in a difficult market.

“Our municipalities and county services cannot compete with local employers as far as providing housing, because there is no mechanism that allows municipalities to provide housing or subsidy or preference for affordable housing,” she said. 

Silber said Nantucket’s request has opened conversations at the state level. “If Vineyard towns can file a similar request to Nantucket’s, we have an opportunity to really have a policy conversation with the state,” she said. 

In the meantime, towns can look to provide municipal housing on a case-by-case basis before legislation is passed. Silber said the goal would be to establish a mechanism with the state so the recommendations wouldn’t have to be on a case-by-case basis. 

Edgartown is considering a similar reservation for municipal employees at Meshacket Commons. 

Oak Bluffs town administrator Deborah Potter said there are various considerations to make before a preference system could be established, such as what happens to a unit if the resident leaves the Oak Bluffs payroll, and if other towns’ employees could be eligible. 

Board member Gail Barmakian pointed out that the town would also need to figure out whether there’d be a preference for certain municipal employees, such as police officers. 

Nantucket is looking at possibly placing higher preference for some staff, like public safety personnel and teachers, according to Silber. 

When discussing authorization of a letter, Potter said she wanted the language to reflect that the town could prioritize municipal employees deemed “critical in nature” — which could include various positions like teachers, public safety personnel, and wastewater staff — while providing the town some flexibility in the process. 


  1. This sounds like a good idea at first but it sure could go south real quick. What if the employee lives in this housing with their spouse and 3 children but they just aren’t cut out for the job? Can they stay in the housing if they get fired? If not does the town have managers tough enough to do the right thing and let an employee go even though it probably means they will be homeless? Would we really prioritize which employees are more important than others? Would a teacher and policeman who on average make a lot more than someone at the highway department or a clerical person in town hall get preference because the are “critical in nature”? Employee housing for seasonal employees usually works out okay because all parties involve realize that it is temporary situation. Employee housing for year round employees is fraught with many, many complexities.

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