With the crucial question of whether to create a Martha’s Vineyard housing bank on the table ahead of annual town hall meetings and elections, Islanders voiced their concerns, comments and questions in an online forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on Wednesday night.
Nearly 100 people logged into the Zoom meeting, hosted by the League. Members of the Coalition to Create a Housing Bank Martha’s Vineyard, the advocacy group campaigning for the housing bank, took center stage to answer questions that were read aloud on the Zoom chat.
The housing bank will emerge as an issue in both town halls and at the ballot box this spring, in a first step that would then lead to its passage through the state legislature. If all these hurdles are cleared, the matter would come back to the voters for a final vote at the ballot box. Organizers hope to have the bank in place by 2023.
Modeled on Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, the housing bank would collect a 2% transfer fee paid by the buyer on most real estate transactions over $1 million. The money would be distributed as grants for affordable housing projects on the island. A seven-member elected island-wide commission would run the bank, with town advisory councils appointed as well.
In order to qualify for affordable housing under the Housing Bank, applicants would need to earn less than 250% of the area median income. For a family of four, this limit is approximately $250,000 per year.
On Wednesday evening, coalition members answered a wide range of questions on everything from the structure of the bank to who would be eligible for affordable housing.
One person asked what would happen if someone who qualifies for affordable housing through the housing bank subsequently reaches an income above the qualifying limit. Would they have to move from an affordable restricted-deed home?
“They absolutely don’t have to leave,” said co-chair of the coalition’s steering committee, Arielle Faria. But if the house sells, future buyers will have to qualify based on their income, she said.
Rental properties created using housing bank funds would be restricted by deed for year-round use by eligible islanders.
“Can you tell us who will monitor compliance? asked Meg Higgins.
Coalition coordinator Laura Silber said the housing bank commission would be responsible for compliance, using hired staff.
Another point of discussion was whether creating more available housing through the housing bank would have the unintended consequence of attracting more people to the island, particularly given the current trend towards remote work.
In short, coalition members said people who already live on the island and work remotely will be eligible for housing created by the housing bank. But anyone who wants to move to Martha’s Vineyard will need to have an island work contract in hand to be eligible, they said.
Coalition members recognized that remote working is on the rise and likely to grow. But they also pointed to rapid turnover rates at the island’s fire departments and schools, which spend money training employees only to see them lose their homes a year or two after moving to the island. Isle.
Coalition members also pointed to the large population of workers who travel to the island for work and likely don’t put the money they earn back into the Martha’s Vineyard economy. Asked how many people travel to the island each day, coalition member Doug Ruskin said he discovered last year through data from the Steamship Authority that an average of 325 commuter tickets were used. every day – not counting those who traveled on individual ferry tickets.
“So the answer is hundreds,” he said.
Many participants asked for more clarification on the long and dense bill. Others questioned the potential effect on property taxes. Coalition members said they believed the impact would be negligible.
Annual town hall meetings begin April 12 in four Island towns: Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury and West Tisbury. League spokesperson Beatrice Phear urged everyone to participate.