When you hand control of your life over to multiple bureaucracies you better be careful what you wish for. Consider that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, after 30 years in power, has left in its wake an Island that continues to lose year-round residents due to the lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living. Consider also the economics of the fact that 300 to 400 people come to work here from the mainland every day since they can’t afford to live here. These people help to provide the workforce to build and maintain multi-million dollar summer estates all over the Island. This money coming from the mainland skips the Island and goes back to the mainland. I suggest that this represents an annual loss of at least $15 to $20 million to the year-round, i.e. winter, economy. Can anyone say sustainable economy?
After reading the preamble of the administrative checklist for referrals to the MVC for developments of regional impact (DRIs), which states the theoretical purposes of the commission, I think I now see the underlying motivation of the commission members, and I congratulate them on their success, in their effort to cleanse the Island of the native working class. Chapter 831, section seven states: “These standards and criteria will be used to designate developments of regional impact to be processed by the commission to preserve and conserve the unique natural, historical, ecological, scientific, cultural and other special values possessed by Martha’s Vineyard and to contribute to the maintenance of the Island’s economy and property values.”
It is obvious that, of the above values, they have succeeded only in grossly expanding property values. This is, in my opinion, the reason why the commission turns a blind eye to the commercialization of Island residential property, which results in unaffordable housing for the working class, in favor of the transient accommodation business. Massachusetts General Laws define transient rentals as commercial use. How many thousands more weekly rental premises do you want in your neighborhood? As a regional planning board this is the only issue the commission needs to address if it wants to control, as the Gazette editorial stated on June 23, “the deleterious effects of unchecked growth.” They have thus priced out the working class and replaced it with money changers and people who think changing bed sheets once a week is work worth $2,000 to $10,000 per week.
Most transient rental units in residential zones are, by definition, commercial, over 2,000 square feet of floor area, and represent a change of use from residential. There before you are three mandatory triggers, under their administrative checklist, for referral to the MVC as a DRI. On this issue the commission is eerily and entirely silent. Regional planning my you-know-what. On the one hand the commission fails to protect the citizens of the Vineyard from being priced off their Island while they raid the Girl Scouts’ cookie jar with the other! How is this a development of regional impact? The impact is to the abutters only and is clearly a town issue. Now that the Kennebec avenue building has been referred, with no DRI trigger, after it is built, what is the commission going to do, choose the drapes? The policies of the MVC, combined with the housing bureaucracy, supports cleansing Martha’s Vineyard of the legal, taxpaying, working class by perpetuating the housing problem and at the same time providing themselves with taxpayer-funded jobs, with benefits few in the private sector can afford, in perpetuity. Have you ever known a bureaucracy that solved a problem and put itself out of business?
I don’t believe in complaining without offering possible solutions. The following ideas come from an assortment of hundreds of other communities across the country that have experienced and addressed these same issues of community and legitimate market-based residential housing costs. If you are interested, search the web under transient rental ordinances:
  • Restrict the rental of all new construction in residential zones to the same process as any other home business. Institute a 30 to 60-day minimum rental period to properties permitted as transient rental accommodations.
  • Identify year-round residences. See Tisbury’s requirements for their residential property tax abatement.
  • Enforce MGL Chapter 59 by labeling as commercial property all permitted transient rental properties. Assess commercial property values based upon income potential just like bed and breakfasts and hotels.
  • Have all commercial rentals pay the state rooms tax, as do bed and breakfasts and hotels. Add a four per cent local tax, to be returned to the town to help offset expenses incurred by the transient rental business and reduce the property tax burden on residents.
  • After the above tax considerations are met, allow five years of continued weekly transient rentals to those properties that have a history of short-term rentals. After five years these properties would have to apply for permits and comply with the same regulations imposed on everyone else. Many similar places have instituted minimum rental periods of 30 to 60 days in residential zones.
  • During this transition period give year-round working class residents each a $100,000 down payment to buy down the low end of the existing housing stock (under $500,000 range). The new construction rental restrictions apply. The homeowner should be allowed full appreciation of their investment except upon the sale of these houses the $100,000 dollars is returned to the housing fund, interest free.
These restrictions would bring everyone into compliance with MGL Chapter 59 and would support our bed and breakfasts and hotels. These are, after all, the legitimate transient rental accommodations.
People interested in starting petitions to put removal of your town from the commission on the next ballot, please feel free to contact me.
Donald Muckerheide lives in Oak Bluffs.