Housing Bank Comes to Rest

Advocates for the housing bank, who have worked long and hard for their cause, lost the battle last week when a bill to create a new tax on real estate sales — with the money intended to go into an affordable housing fund — died as a piece of unfinished business on Beacon Hill. The Massachusetts legislature is now in summer recess.

And the housing bank, first filed three years ago, has run out its string.

Before they can file new legislation, backers of the housing bank must return to the six Island towns for another referendum vote. The last such vote was in the spring of Two Thousand and Five when an initiative was approved at town meetings.

Modeled after the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, which collects a two per cent transfer fee on most real estate transactions, the housing bank called for a one per cent tax on real estate sales. The fee would only apply to sales over seven hundred and fifty thousands dollars. (On Nantucket, where the housing bank bill would also have been enacted, the minimum was set at two million dollars.) Unlike the land bank, where the buyer pays the fee, this fee would be paid by the seller.

Three years ago when the housing bank initiative was first put to Island voters, it was backed by a majority vote.

But with a dramatic downturn in the real estate market since then, it may be hard to win a majority vote again for one more tax on real estate sales. Market changes also will affect the projections for how much money the tax would bring in. The land bank, whose own numbers are down sharply this year despite conservative projections, can attest to that fact.

The housing bank was always a long shot, especially in the Massachusetts legislature, which is notoriously erratic and riddled with special interests and back-room deals.

Perhaps in this era of austerity and belt tightening all around, these times may demand more creative thinking and innovation.