On the heels of a wide-ranging planning effort aimed at expanding housing opportunities on the Island, the Chilmark planning board has begun investigating short-term rentals such as those offered through Airbnb, and whether they present an obstacle to year-round affordable housing.

At their meeting last week, planning board members pondered whether short-term rentals are in fact a problem, given their importance to many year-rounders who rely on the extra income. But they agreed to continue exploring the issue in the coming weeks.

“It’s in the very beginning stages,” town clerk and planning board assistant Jennifer Christy said of the effort, noting the possibility of permit-management software to help evaluate the effect on the housing market.

The summer vacation rental business has long been a fixture on the Island, handled by real estate agencies, and in more recent years online vacation websites such as Vacation Rental by Owner and Weneedavacation.com, a site that caters specifically to the Cape and Islands. Airbnb arrived on the Island in 2013. Its online vacation rental service remains largely unregulated in the state, although a newly proposed bill would apply a tax to high-volume room rentals.

One goal in Chilmark is to determine whether a new tax on short-term rentals would be appropriate and how it might be applied.

“I’m sure it’s a double edged sword,” planning board chairman Richard Osnoss said at the meeting last Monday. “There are probably people that have rental properties that are used strictly as income, and other people who maybe live here year-round and also rent their houses out.” He added that short-term rentals may end up hurting local hotels and inns, but that Chilmark has only a few of those businesses.

As one indication of the scale, the Airbnb website lists about 50 properties available in Chilmark, with prices ranging from $150 to $1,200 per night. The website lists about 300 properties for the Island as a whole, with prices ranging from $50 to $5,600 per night. The bulk of available Airbnb rentals are in Tisbury and Oak Bluffs.

Planning board member Janet Widener noted the longstanding practice of renting houses for one to four weeks at a time. “That’s the kind of thing the town is built on in a lot of ways,” she said, adding that she wondered how shorter-term rentals were any different.

Other questions focused on how to define short-term rentals, and at what point they become a problem. “If 95 per cent of those rentals were strictly in people’s third homes, that they’re strictly using for income, you might say, wow,’” Mr. Osnoss said, alluding to the possible disadvantage for year-rounders.

More than two thirds of Chilmark’s 1,560 housing units (the greatest proportion of any Island town) are used for seasonal or vacation use, according to a draft housing production plan issued by consultants at JM Goldson in January. As with the other towns, the plan recommends a number of strategies, including a tax on seasonal rentals and the creation of an Island seasonal housing task force.

A series of workshops in each Island town last year helped provide a foundation for the plans, with Chilmark having among the highest turnouts. But town officials have offered only a lukewarm response so far, welcoming the data but pointing to a lack of detail and an apparent conflict between a need for moderate income housing and the state’s focus on lower income households.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which is helping to coordinate the process, is now working with town planning boards to determine the next steps, including possible bylaw amendments to comply with state and federal regulations. Some of the strategies, including a tax on seasonal rentals, would require special legislation and a concerted lobbying effort.

MVC affordable housing planner Christine Flynn, who met with the planning board, said one goal for the town is to determine how it can participate in the Islandwide efforts while also pursuing its own goals.

“We are never going to solve the problem,” she said. “But each town can address it.”

Housing committee member Ann Wallace said she looked forward to hearing what other towns had to say, but still had reservations about the housing production plan. “It’s a little limp,” she said. “It’s not specific. We have work to do.”

“We are really good at doing what is asked of us,” planning board and MVC member Joan Malkin told Ms. Flynn at the meeting. “We are much less good about thinking: Well, how can we implement change. The more specific you can be about what it is you want us to consider, you will get outcomes.”