The proposed housing bank bill replaces the direct democracy of town meeting with a central committee, consisting of seven commissioners, one elected from each town, and a seventh commissioner elected Islandwide. This central committee has broad powers to purchase real estate, loan money, guarantee private loans, fund developers and incur debt — which locks in taxpayer-generated revenues to pay that debt service even if a town subsequently withdraws from the housing bank. The only check on their power is a disproportionately weighed town advisory board that will likely set public policy in closed-door executive sessions. This is a far cry from the very public process which developed the 60 affordable housing units at Morgan Woods, and voted on the 40 affordable housing units at the future Meshacket development. A direct democracy demands a full and transparent process for any proposal which could have a significant impact on every capacity issue from school enrollment — to traffic at the Triangle.

Assuming real estate sales had a similar volume as occurred in 2021, the housing bank would generate $13 to 14 million in fees on an annual basis. It should be noted that roughly 58 per cent of those fees would come directly from Edgartown. This amount of money, together with leveraged borrowing, is substantial and likely to be politically unstoppable. If you consider that a person or family is eligible for housing bank funding if they earn up to 240 per cent of the median income for Dukes County, or up to $250,000 a year for a family of four, and up to $175,000 for an individual; the demand could be unlimited and goes well beyond addressing “affordable” housing needs.

Likewise, another popular idea is that housing initiatives funded by the housing bank will only go to those who reside on the Vineyard, or essential workers who have employment contracts to work here. It is our understanding that lengths of residency or employment requirements are not permissible under the current Fair Housing laws. While preferences may be allowed in certain circumstances, there is no guarantee that housing, or even a majority of it, would go to existing Island residents with tenured time on the Vineyard. The current Covid-19 “tele-work” paradigm has made any possible preference even more convoluted. Ultimately, anyone from anywhere making up to $250,000 a year could qualify.

It seems to us we should wait until we have a better handle on the capacity of our sole-source aquifer, wastewater systems and other natural resources (data that will be forthcoming through the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s carrying capacity study and the down-Island towns’ comprehensive wastewater management plans) before we spend multiple millions of public dollars to create housing that by law must be open to all those eligible whether they currently live on Martha’s Vineyard or not.

The proponents say that 75 per cent of the funding will go to previously developed properties — thereby implying that housing density will not increase. This is misleading because the housing bank bill authorizes funding for Chapter 40B housing developments — which allows developers to override our town meeting-approved zoning bylaws and substantially increase housing density if a quarter of the project is designated affordable.

The housing bank bill proposes that any recipient’s property will be subject to permanent year-round residency requirements and allows the housing bank to purchase residency restrictions from homeowners separate from income limits. We question how this can be enforced — especially over a long period. What if a recipient qualifies for funding but later retires and moves to Florida for part of the year? Is this person going to be forced to sell their home? Will this property be another seasonal rental? We think not, nor do we think the towns would want to inherit this kind of enforcement responsibility when the housing bank sunset clause kicks in after 30 years. If each individual town wishes to have affordable housing, let the town have full control of the form of the restrictions and enforcement from the outset, as it does now.

The housing bank, under its draft legislation, is given broad powers to make loans to developers and loan down payments to income eligible recipients, and to guarantee those loans. We question how the housing bank will be qualified to make loans or to guarantee loans made by private parties. And will the loans be subject to fair lending and insider dealing requirements, similar to what banks are required to follow? We do not need another government bureaucracy to make and administer loans.

We believe there is a better solution. Currently pending before the Massachusetts state legislature are two bills: House Bill No. 1377 and Senate Bill No. 868. These bills, if passed by the legislature (and from what we understand, those bills are as likely to pass as a bill creating the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank), would authorize each individual town to impose a fee on real estate transfers between half a percent and 2 per cent on sales above the state media sales price, with all revenue to go for affordable housing purposes. These bills call for an income limit of 175 per cent of the median income. The funds would be administered by our already existing affordable housing committee (which also receives Community Preservation Act funding). We support this legislation because it retains power and control with the towns. An entirely new governmental bureaucracy does not need to be created: we already have one in place. Affordable housing monies should go toward housing, and not toward the expensive operating costs of a new government entity.

In our view, the housing bank is not just an “imperfect” solution — but fatally flawed with serious unintended consequences.

We urge you to vote no.

Margaret Serpa is an Edgartown select board member, and Leslie Baynes is an Edgartown finance committee member.