Housing Committee Vetoes Restrictions

Oak Bluffs Resident Homesite Group Seeks Fewer Controls on Youth Lots, Uncorking a Fresh Controversy

By CHRIS BURRELL

The Dukes County Regional Housing Authority raised serious questions yesterday about a proposal in Oak Bluffs to ease restrictions on the resale of past and future resident homesite lots.

The proposal, pitched to the Oak Bluffs selectmen last week by the town's resident homesite committee, would roll back the current 30-year time restriction to 20 years on town property sold to residents at discounted prices.

"We recommend changing those deeds so that at the end of 20 years, the person involved will own the house outright," James Rankin, chairman of the Oak Bluffs resident homesite committee, told selectmen last week.

Selectmen were poised to approve the measure, but then decided to hold off until tonight when the issue is slated for further discussion.

Debate is expected to be lively.

The county regional housing authority sent a letter yesterday to selectmen, urging the board to weigh the consequences of allowing resident homesites to go onto the open real estate market and out of the pool of affordable housing.

According to housing authority records, 35 resident homesite lots awarded by the town of Oak Bluffs between 1989 and 1997 currently have deeds restricting resale for 30 years.

"The result of amending 35 existing deed riders would mean that as early as 2009, recipients of these resident homesite lots would be able to sell their property at market value and most likely to nonresident second home buyers," housing authority chairman Ambrose Seward wrote to selectmen. Mr. Seward is also the Oak Bluffs representative to the regional housing agency.

"Once the deed restrictions are lifted, the town's investment will be lost," Mr. Seward's letter continued. "At current market rates, a conservative estimate to replace this land would cost approximately $7 million ($200,000 per lot). The time to preserve this land is now."

The most common tool for keeping affordable housing and building lots affordable is perpetual and renewable deed riders, which ensure that such properties are resold to a buyer who qualifies under income guidelines.

Last week, regional housing authority executive director Philippe Jordi told selectmen that his agency can offer the resident homesite committee the expertise to draft those kind of deed restrictions.

"We can make sure that properties continue to be there in perpetuity," Mr. Jordi said.

Mr. Rankin's board views the situation in a different light, questioning current deed riders that limit a recipient's ability to build equity.

"Unfortunately, housing is a complex issue," Mr. Rankin told selectmen last week, trying to draw a distinction between homesites and affordable housing.

"Resident homesites were set up to encourage people to live here and participate, serve on committees, as EMTs, to do the business of the town, the heart and breadth of the community," he said. "We think it's appropriate for [these] people to take ownership."

Town-owned homesites awarded 20 years ago in Oak Bluffs were sold at prices roughly one-third to half of the market value. Eligibility guidelines opened homesite lotteries to residents earning no more than $35,000 a year and combined assets of less than $65,000.

Two members of the resident homesite committee are also recipients of lots - Jesse Law 3rd and Anthony Ferreira.

Now, the Oak Bluffs resident homesite committee is preparing to revamp the eligibility requirements and sell six new town-owned building lots to qualified residents for $25,000 apiece, about one-eighth the current market value cited by Mr. Seward

Mr. Rankin argued that the new lots with a 20-year resale restriction should be made available to residents earning 140 per cent of the median income in Dukes County, an annual income of $92,575 for a family of four.

His committee will look for voter approval for that change at a special town meeting later this year.

Under current state law, towns can permanently restrict the resale value of lots sold only to residents earning less than 80 per cent of the county median income, which is $52,900 for a family of four.

As land values increased, some Island towns opened the program to another tier of Islanders earning up to 140 per cent of median income. State law allows restrictive deeds on those lots for up to 30 years, but Vineyard housing officials are waiting for the governor's signature on a bill that would allow permanent caps on these properties as well.

Oak Bluffs officials may decide tonight whether to opt for permanent deed restrictions or the recommended rollback.

Last week, selectmen appeared eager to do anything for the cause of affordable housing.

"I say yes to everything the resident homesite committee wants," said selectman Kerry Scott.

"We've got to take care of these people, or they're gone," said selectman Greg Coogan.

Selectmen also discussed whether a newly formed community development council in Oak Bluffs will overlap and possibly compete with the work being done by the resident homesite committee.

"Our strongest recommendation to you is to get housing formed on one committee," said Mr. Rankin.

"It could dovetail with what you're doing," said Mr. Coogan, who has participated in the affordable housing discussions held by the community development council.