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Martha's Vineyard residents overwhelmingly approve a housing bank; will state lawmakers be on board, too?

Martha's Vineyard Housing Bank Coalition

Five of six Martha's Vineyard town meetings have overwhelmingly approved a proposal to create a housing bank that would use money from a fee levied on property sales over $1M (Tisbury Town Meeting votes in May on the article) to address the ongoing housing crisis. The proposal also needs state approval, but if it passes, a regional housing bank could help keep low- and middle-income residents get into housing they can afford.

CAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Martha's Vineyard Housing Bank Coalition director Laura Silber to learn more about what island towns are hoping to accomplish for themselves and for other communities across Massachusetts.

Eident Let's talk a little bit about how the Housing Bank would work. It's modeled after the Land Bank but explain that a little bit more.

Silber So the land bank on Martha's Vineyard is unique in that we have six separate and distinct towns on the Vineyard. So, we needed to come up with a structure that enabled all six towns to have an intergovernmental structure that could make decisions together that also enabled them to pool funding, because right now, [with] municipal affordable housing trusts, there's a real restriction in how they can share funding and projects.

So, the Land Bank structure and the Housing Bank structure has a central elected body of commissioners. If all six towns on the vineyard opt in, it would be one elected representative from each town, plus one elected at-large across the whole island. And then, each town would have a town advisory board. That town advisory board acts as the backstop and the approval for any funding happening in that town. We know that we've lost over 600 residential structures to seasonal or short-term rentals over the past ten years. And one of the goals is to reverse that and recapture that inventory.

Eident What kinds of projects would the Housing Bank be looking for?

Silber So one of the things that the affordable housing committees have not been able to do, because of the way they're structured, is create direct to resident programs. Those would be loan programs, grant programs, down payment assistance programs, rental assistance. So, some of it would be the towns could apply for either matching funding or stopgap funding. Also, the Housing Bank would have a unique opportunity to move fairly quickly to purchase properties when they come up for sale.

One of the big challenges here is that we have these properties that get purchased very quickly by nonresident investors. The Housing Bank could make competitive offers on properties, roll these properties, either in deed restriction and resell them to a local resident at an income-restricted reduced price, or hold the property until a local nonprofit or for profit developer could be found. Could do a conversion of that home into either a two -or some other kind of a project that would either be a rental or for purchase.

Eident And you say affordable housing, but we're also talking about professionals and people on the island who make the economy run here who need to be able to access housing, right?

Silber There's the generic lowercase, "a" affordable, which means housing that's affordable to incomes up to a certain level. And then there's the capital, "A" affordable.

Across the state, it means up to 80% or 100% of area median income, which for Dukes County right now, $104,000 for a family of four. Dukes County and Nantucket are unique in that low to moderate income housing is actually extended to up to 150% of area median income because of the cost of living out here.

But, we really, on Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, as well now as on the Cape, need to expand the programs that we can provide to folks who fall into that, quote unquote, attainable housing category. And those are professionals who make between 100 or 120% of area median income all the way up to 200% or 240% of area median income.

Eident So big piece of this, of course, is funding to fund the Housing Bank, a 2% fee on property sales over $1 million. Is there now appetite on Beacon Hill to see something like a Housing Bank be created?

Silber Well, at the end of last session, a consensus bill was put together by the cities and towns that had been filing home rule petitions that were not passing. Nantucket and Somerville have kind of taken the lead with this, partnering with Concord and Brookline and Boston. Now Chatham and Wellfleet, we also know Provincetown and Truro have filed petitions in the last couple of years. Arlington joined the conversation this year. Northampton is in the process of filing. So, multiple transfer fee bills went into the legislature to say, "Hey, there's an appetite across the state for this." Once you get to 8,10 home rule petitions, it's a lot more likely the legislature is going to want to look at some kind of enabling legislation that makes it cohesive for the entire state.

Eident So the Vineyard, of course, wants one of these bills to pass. Would that be enough then for all of the towns to create this regional Housing Bank?

Silber For the island it's really a two-part process. We need one the state level enabling bills to pass to give our community the right to adopt a transfer fee for a housing bank. But the Vineyard is unique in the same way that Western Mass is unique; they're also supporting these regional options. Because if the state level legislation passes alone, our six towns still have no structure to enable them to pool funding and create a mechanism to have a regional housing bank in the absence of a piece of local legislation. We're actually hoping that if the Vineyard Housing Bank passes, it would provide a template for other areas of the state to construct a regional housing bank that would echo what's happening on Martha's Vineyard.

Eident Well, Laura Silber, thank you so much for taking the time to explain the initiative and shed some more light on what's happening on Beacon Hill. Thanks!

Silber Thank you, Kathryn.

Learn more about the Martha's Vineyard Housing Bank Coalition at www.ccmvhb.org/.

This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Kathryn Eident was the Morning Edition Host and Senior Producer of News until November 2022.