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Vineyarders launch new effort to tackle housing crisis

Screenshot from the presentation of the Martha's Vineyard Housing Action Task Force
Martha's Vineyard Housing Action Task Force
Screenshot from the presentation of the Martha's Vineyard Housing Action Task Force

Money, infrastructure, policy changes, and a lot of collaboration are necessary to create and incentivize more affordable year-round housing on Martha’s Vineyard. Those were the take-aways of the first meeting of the island’s newly created Housing Action Task Force.

The 75-person meeting kicked off with advice from officials and housing advocates from Provincetown and Nantucket, communities also striving to increase sustainable housing.

Provincetown Select Board member Leslie Sandberg urged immediate action.

“Please don’t delay. Just start,” Sandberg said. “Just start it and everything flows.”

One benefit, several attendees noted, is that the task force is backed by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which has access to a range of resources, including the ability to work directly with local, state, and federal entities.

But Arielle Faria, administrator for the Affordable Housing Committee and Trust, made clear that progress depends on the wise use of money.

“Everyone here is for housing,” she said. “We have to show up and talk to our officials and make sure that they’re putting money in the right places.”

A recent report on the State of Housing on Martha’s Vineyard found that the median home price increased by 150% in 10 years, from $600,000 in 2012 to $1.5 million in 2022.

Since 2010 there have been 600 year-round rental units lost and 1,400 seasonal units gained in housing stock. Today, 323 qualified applicants are on a rental waitlist, and 512 qualified applicants are on a home ownership waitlist.

“What we’re up against here is quite steep,” State Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro) said at the meeting. “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,” Cyr added. “In part, because of the inaction, and because it’s taken us so long to realize what’s going on.”

The task force, which is an outgrowth of the commission’s Joint Affordable Housing Group, plans to focus on 10 broad areas to preserve existing year-round housing and create a pipeline for more sustainable housing in the future. Those efforts include improving inter-town communication and resource sharing, passing legislation to prevent loss of housing, and increasing staff capacity, all while navigating environmental impacts and waste management on new builds.

Jon Abrams, who serves on the island Housing Trust Board, said the best chance of success will require a unified approach.

“Anything we can do to bring the towns together as one entity — because we are so one island — is going to make this go faster and better,” he said.

At the Housing Action Task Force’s next meeting, officials say they'll address how the group should organize itself to take on key housing issues.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.