The fight for affordable housing on the Island cannot be won without a serious wad of cash, according to the activists for cheaper housing.

On Wednesday night at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, advocates unveiled a plan that could funnel millions of dollars into the effort on the Vineyard and promise tangible results as early as next year in the form of cash for land and houses and subsidies for rent or down-payments on homes.

The plan, enabled by a new state law called the Community Preservation Act, calls for a surcharge of up to three per cent on local real estate taxes. And while higher taxes may be a bitter pill, the state would match that extra revenue with as much as a dollar-to-dollar ratio.

If voters at annual town meetings in the spring approve the plan, a community fund could be built up with most of it going to affordable housing. Some $1.5 million could be raised in just the first year, according to documents released at this week’s meeting which was led by John Abrams, one of the principal advocates to lobby for this plan and the founder of the Island Affordable Housing Fund.

“We don’t have the money now to meet the housing needs on the Island,” said Juleann VanBelle, director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. “If we can pass this plan at town meeting to raise this money, it will be a lot of fun to spend it.” Advocates assured people that affordable housing created from this funding would remain affordable in perpetuity.

The group turned to financial whiz Jeff Parker of Chilmark to crunch the numbers and help people understand the potential impact on their taxes. Mr. Parker, who helps plan public financing for transportation projects around the world, prepared a chart that showed how the community preservation fund could be an instantaneous boon for more affordable housing.

According to Mr. Parker’s calculations, Island taxpayers with a yearly tax bill of $1,500 could expect to pay somewhere between $5 and $38 more in the first year. That amount factors in an examption that would not count the first $100,000 valuation on a property.

For property owners who have annual tax bills of $4,000 a year, the increase from the surcharge would range from $80 extra a year in Tisbury to $112 a year in Chilmark. Mr. Parker also figured out how the fund would look once the state kicked in its promise of matching funds. Even if the matching ratio is only 75 cents for every dollar, the fund would grow to more than $1.5 million in the first year.

“It’s exciting. That’s a healthy slug of money,” said Mr. Parker. “It is a reliable source of funds, and you can make something happen very quickly.”

But not all of the money can go directly to affordable housing. The community preservation act would require that at least 10 per cent of the fund go to conservation efforts for open space and another 10 per cent to historic preservation. But that still leaves 80 per cent for affordable housing, and Mr. Abrams said Island conservation and historic preservation groups have readily conceded that affordable housing is a top priority.

The next question was how to spend the money for affordable housing. Both Mr. Parker and Mr. Abrams had some concrete ideas. Mr. Parker said that with an annual flow of $1.5 million, the Island could actually borrow as much as $10 million to sink into housing.

Mr. Abrams was careful to point out in his writings on the issue that no large-scale housing developments would be proposed. Mr. Parker suggested establishing rent subsidies that would allow Vineyard families to go into the rental marketplace and afford a year-round rental.

He said there was also the idea of buying land or houses and then selling it at lower cost to qualified buyers. “There would be deed covenants,” he said. “It would remain in perpetuity for affordable housing.” In addition, the funding could also be used to issue low interest loans to people who can’t save enough for a down-payment on a house. As those loans are repaid, a revolving fund could be established, he said.

“We’re looking at 200 to 250 people that can be helped right off the bat,” said Mr. Parker. “That puts a dent in the need.”
Mr. Parker’s optimisim was promising news on a battlefront that seemed doomed by a real estate market that has showed no signs of slackening. And those in the audience on Wednesday were visibly moved by the possibilities. Hands shot up with questions. People signed up to help, and advocates began to strategize how to make the idea of higher taxes fly at the annual town meetings.

Mr. Abrams said the goal is to get the town to join this community preservation plan as a regional effort and to build an agency much like the land bank with representatives from each of the towns. There was also an urgency to taking adavantage of the state offer while matching funds are still available — some $30 million, according to Mr. Abrams.

The regional approach to the problem was an idea that gained a lot of support. Walter Collins of Tisbury said his town’s survey of residents on affordable housing issues revealed that 68 per cent of respondents did not feel that town residency mattered as a requirement to get affordable housing in town.

While town residency may not matter in the quest for affordable housing under this plan, personal income will be a factor. Ms. VanBelle said income threshholds still need to be determined for eligibility. As details of this proposed regional plan are hammered out, advocates have called for a meeting with all-Island selectmen in December to win support for the community preservation fund and tax surcharge.