Four of the island’s six towns will take the first steps next week to decide the crucial question of whether to ask the state legislature to authorize the creation of a Martha’s Vineyard housing bank, aimed stem the escalating affordable housing crisis on the island.
Loosely modeled after Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, the housing bank would be an entirely new regional government entity with sweeping, autonomous powers to buy and sell real estate, make loans, incur debt, and issue bonds. The bank’s financing would come from a transfer fee of 2% on most real estate transactions over $1 million, paid by the buyer.
Developed and drafted by a coalition of islanders and their lawyer over the past year and a half, the housing bank proposal has been the subject of a high-profile campaign in recent months and weeks through public forums, meetings government and social media platforms.
And while previous Vineyard Housing Bank proposals have spat for various reasons, this time around the proposal has seen an outpouring of passionate community support from clergy groups, business leaders, young voters and the NAACP, among others. All have been spurred on by growing concern as the housing crisis permeates nearly every aspect of island life.
Critics of the proposal have been less vocal but no less committed to their belief that the island is already under extreme development pressure and the housing bank could open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences. The Tisbury and Edgartown finance committees voted against recommending passage and the Oak Bluffs finance committee declined to take a position. West Tisbury’s finance committee recommended passage.
Everywhere there are deep tensions and worries about the future.
If approved by at least four cities, a bill to create the housing bank would be submitted to the state legislature as a self-government petition. There it would become one piece of a much larger and dynamic political puzzle involving real estate transfer fees around the Commonwealth.
Cities and towns from Boston to western Massachusetts to the Cape and the Islands are grappling with their own versions of the housing crisis. There are currently 12 bills pending in Beacon Hill, including one from Nantucket. All are different, according to Senator Julian Cyr of Cape Town State, who supports the housing bank concept for the vineyard.
The housing bank issue appears as a 2,000-word article on every term of the city’s annual meeting this spring. A non-binding supplementary question appears on municipal ballot papers. The warrant article refers to a 27-page bill that is filed with the city clerks in each city.
Approval of the question by four cities would only be a first step. If the legislation ends up being approved by the legislature, it would come back for a final vote at city meetings.
The mandate article and accompanying legislation are complex, but in summary, the proposal:
• Create a seven-member commission, with six members elected from island towns (one from each town) for a three-year term, and one member elected at-large for a two-year term.
• Establish appointed municipal advisory councils in each city, including a representative from the select council, conservation commission, planning council, board of health, zoning board, sewage committee (if any) and two representatives of the municipal housing committee. Advisory councils would have two-thirds majority voting power on proposed projects or expenditure of housing bank funds in their cities.
• Create financing for the bank from a transfer commission of 2% paid by the buyer on real estate transactions, with the first $1 million being exempt from the commission.
• Set an income cap for applicants seeking housing finance at 240% of area median income (currently about $250,000 for a family of four).
• Authorize the housing bank to provide subsidies for the acquisition, renovation or construction of housing, and also provide “loans, bond guarantees, lines of credit, interest rate subsidies, rental assistance and other means of financial assistance”, including “shared appreciation”. equity loans by which the housing bank receives part of the appreciation of the property concerned upon resale. Recipients could include individuals, non-profit and for-profit organizations, including developers. The projects would be subject to year-round occupancy restrictions. The housing bank cannot itself be a promoter.
• Establish guidelines for reviewing projects, including master plans, comprehensive wastewater treatment plans, and climate action goals.
• Allow elected commissioners to receive annual stipends of up to $2,000, subject to approval by municipal advisory boards.
• Require that 75% of funding be allocated to projects on properties already developed with existing buildings.
• Require new construction to meet green energy standards, preserve open spaces and protect the natural ecology.
• Create a withdrawal and termination clause. Any city could opt out with a majority vote taken by ballot in a municipal election. And the housing bank would expire after 30 years unless at least four member cities vote to extend it.
In an interview this week, Laura Silber, the paid housing bank coalition coordinator, reflected on the campaign.
“In every sense of the word, this is a true grassroots effort,” she said. “It’s been this really inclusive process. . . from the start, the goal was to engage with city government at all levels and help tie the conversation. »
She acknowledged the proposal is complicated and said the article and bill were drafted with the help of coalition legal counsel Eric Reustle, an attorney at Krokidas & Bluestein in Boston. “They do municipal law. We worked with him for months on writing and redesigning. . . we had to look at the legislation at the state level and make sure it was okay, make sure it would meet the needs of the island. There was a lot of back and forth,” Ms. Silber said.
But she said the months-long effort was worth it, with many revisions made based on community feedback. “I think what we send to the legislature is better because of what we’ve done and been through,” she said.
She stressed that passing the proposal in the municipal assembly would only be the start.
“It’s not over,” Ms. Silber said. “This is the start of a long process. The votes next week are not about passing a housing bank, the votes are about sending it to the State House. We are at least one year of anything happening.
Speaking to the Gazette by phone, Senator Cyr echoed the theme.
“I would encourage Islanders, if they support the idea of having an Island-wide housing bank and having a real estate transfer fee to fund it, I would encourage them to vote,” said declared Mr. Cyr. “In the process, some details will change. So don’t worry about the details. Because the details will change.
At the state level, Mr. Cyr painted a picture of an ever-changing environment around the issue of transfer fees.
“I’m pretty confident the transfer fee is going to happen,” he said. “But none of these bills will pass individually,” he added.
Mr. Cyr said he had long been a proponent of the idea of a housing bank on the vineyard. “It’s something I fought for a long time. It makes a lot of sense for the Vineyard, and I’m excited to see these terms of reference moving forward,” the senator said. “We don’t know if and when a transfer fee will move to the state level, so it makes sense to put in place a framework to have a housing bank. . . We identify a source of income to solve the current housing crisis and it is directly linked to the housing crisis. »
Leslie Baynes, a member of the Edgartown finance committee who led the committee to a unanimous vote not to recommend the housing bank, had a different view.
“The complexity of it, that’s part of my problem,” Mr Baynes said. “We’re signing something that we haven’t read or even understood if we’ve read it . . . it’s buyer beware. He continued:
“Are we really going to delegate the spending of a billion dollars to an unknown entity? . . . We can’t even get along with our existing [regional] formulas”.
Tuesday, it will be time for voters to decide.
Ms Silber said the coalition was working to engage with young voters.
“Our hope is that we’re going to see a lot of new voters at these meetings, people who have never been to town meetings,” she said. “But it’s not just young voters. . . it’s the whole island.