As a recently retired, Oak Bluffs-born and raised community banker since the age of 15, I am keenly aware of the trajectory of our housing crisis. Some of the first mortgages I provided were for youth lots, over 40 years ago.

During my tenure at the MV Cooperative Bank, we made the first loan to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority to help get them started, over 30 years ago.

There was a concern then, as now, that creating affordable housing would unwelcomely change the character of the community. What we have seen, and are seeing, is in fact the opposite. Every day that we don’t take steps to create and preserve our year-round housing infrastructure, we lose the character and threaten the sustainability of our community.

Islandwide, we need to provide more affordable year-round housing options — primarily rentals, while also supporting ownership opportunities.

It will take planning, zoning changes, new and improved infrastructure, and money to address this challenge in a comprehensive and thoughtful manner. Island collaboration is needed to effectively and efficiently accomplish the needed housing and sustain a vibrant social fabric, while also mitigating the growing risks to our shared natural environment and health.

The housing bank, as proposed, provides structured collaboration while still maintaining town-centered control. No funding or project in any town can move forward without that town’s approval. A minimum of 75 per cent of funds must be directed to repurposing already developed property. A cap on how much debt can be incurred by the housing bank keeps spending in check. A sunset provision provides a time frame for ending the funding source, unless the towns opt to continue.

Once the funding is invested in our community, it is permanent because restrictions placed on the housing require that it be maintained for future generations.

All these provisions make this a prudent, well-focused and controlled method. From a risk perspective, this is a sound plan.

Stable, affordable housing options are critical to our future, to our economy and our community. In the absence of a new revenue stream that is independent of town budgets, our property taxes will increasingly feel the burden of ongoing destabilization.

The transfer fee revenue stream relieves the burden. It was the answer in 2005 and 2006 when all six Island towns voted for a housing bank. It is still the answer now.

This time because of significant changes at the state level, we can actually succeed at getting this passed. But first we all have to come together.

I encourage everyone to support this at town meeting and at the ballot box. The hole we need to fill just keeps getting deeper.

It’s time for us all to step up together. Please.

Richard Leonard

Oak Bluffs