There’s plenty of talk these days about the proposed Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank. There’s plenty of talk about the state of the Vineyard, too. What will become of both?

In the late seventies and eighties, when developers swarmed like predators and sliced and diced much of the Vineyard into bite-sized pieces, our suburbanization hit full stride. Developers and conservationists scrambled to buy up what remained.

We’ve never seen such rapid change since; until, that is, the Airbnb explosion was followed by a pandemic which has changed the Vineyard like wildfire tearing through the West. Real estate prices skyrocketed, infrastructure became more stressed than ever, and the affordable housing crisis ran off the rails.

The long-term progression of the housing crisis was caused by the second-home market, our collective development priorities (which includes 30 years of insufficient dedication of resources to affordable housing), and the proliferation of short-term rentals. Have we reached or exceeded our carrying capacity (the maximum population a given area with limited resources can handle)?

Few people disagree that this crisis exists, but a question on peoples’ minds is what happens to the Vineyard if we actually create a housing bank and solve the problem? It’s a fundamental question.

If we use the lessons of the last 50 years to guide us, we will do two things at once, both essential to our future:

• Enact a regional housing bank that has been carefully designed to concentrate on converting our existing housing stock into stable year-round housing rather than encouraging new development.

• Complete an evaluation of the Vineyard’s long-term ecological and infrastructure carrying capacity and learn to live within the boundaries of the findings. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission is currently working with the town of Nantucket to get this underway for both Islands.

There is concern that the housing bank may exacerbate overdevelopment but the structure of the warrant articles and legislation precludes this.

Here’s why.

The housing bank has been designed with groundbreaking environmental provisions and carefully decentralized development controls. The single most important sentence in 26 pages of carefully constructed legislative language may be this: “Not less than 75 per cent of the expenditures and funding commitments approved by the commission in any fiscal year shall be allocated to activities or projects on properties previously developed with existing buildings . . .”

Most of the funds will go to property that is already developed. And that’s only a minimum; it will probably be more, because by far the easiest and fastest way to make affordable housing is to buy existing houses that are being used as short term rentals and convert them to year-round.

Perhaps the second most important sentence is this: “ . . . . any expenditure or use of housing bank funds . . . shall require approval by the town advisory board or boards in the town or towns in which the project will be located or in which a real property interest will be acquired.”

Each town controls activity within its borders.

Together these two provisions promise to change peoples’ lives without changing the character of our towns or overdeveloping.

There’s another sentence in the legislation worth noting:

“In considering projects for funding, the commission shall use as guidelines town or regional master plans, wastewater plans, watershed management plans, open space plans, and climate and energy goals.”

That’s where the study of carrying capacity comes into play. When it’s completed and adopted, the housing bank and the town advisory boards must be guided by the results.

Population increases are coming from those who are choosing to move to their second homes. Infrastructure stresses are coming from those same people, as well as from short-term renters. The housing bank will primarily help those who are already living here, right now. David Vigneault, director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, believes that there are more than 1,000 households living in sub-standard housing — in basements, with relatives, doing the shuffle. Those are the people the housing bank will serve.

There are many creative approaches the housing bank can use to make the most of our existing housing stock. Through loans, grants, year-round restriction purchases, and buying or repurposing houses that are currently being scooped up by investors and turned into AirBnBs, the housing bank will address two complementary problems at once.

The legislative provisions above, taken together, answer the earlier question: What happens to the Vineyard if we actually create a housing bank and solve the affordable housing crisis?

The kind of change we want. Enough teachers. Enough nurses. Enough firefighters, police officers, and paramedics. Enough employees to keep the doors of our businesses open. Enough carpenters and craftspeople. Enough farmers to care for the fields. Enough fisherfolks to harvest the oysters. Enough people to provide the essential services we need. A vibrant community. A workforce that stays and stabilizes rather than leaving in droves.

And none of the change that we don’t — overdevelopment, overpopulation, and additional stress on our limited infrastructure.

The housing bank, by helping those who already live here to find stable housing, and by decreasing the number of short-term rentals, will help to restore equity and environmental responsibility in the lopsided, listing ship that we — you and I — have created. We can right that ship. Attainable housing might lead the way toward restoration and renewal. Please vote for positive change at your town meeting and town election this spring.

John Abrams is a member of the steering committee of the Coalition to Create the MV Housing Bank and president and CEO of South Mountain Company.