Legislation Drafted for Housing Bank
By IAN FEIN
Draft legislation for the proposed Martha's Vineyard Housing Bank will circulate around the Island this month as organizers seek public comment before the bill is filed in the state legislature some time in early September.
If approved at the state level - a prospect that many are calling difficult - the legislation would still need to come back to the Vineyard for another round of binding votes.
All six Island towns this spring approved the concept of the housing bank, a funding agency modeled after the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank that would provide financial support for various affordable housing ventures on the Island. As proposed, the housing bank would generate revenue through a one per cent surcharge placed on the seller for all real estate transactions over $750,000.
Housing bank organizers also modeled much of the proposed legislation after that of the land bank, which was approved by the state legislature in 1986 and is funded through a two per cent transfer fee. Like the land bank, the housing bank would have a seven-member central commission and six town advisory boards.
"Our draft was written up completely in the mode of the land bank legislation," said Abbe Burt, administrative coordinator for the Martha's Vineyard Community Housing Bank Coalition. "In fact one of the only differences is that it's shorter and smaller, because we will not be owning or purchasing property."
Ms. Burt estimated the housing bank would take in about $2.3 million in transfer fees every year, which would then be available for public or private housing projects that apply for funding. Projects eligible for funding must aim to provide housing for residents who make 150 per cent or less of median income.
The draft legislation also stipulates that the housing bank can only borrow money if specifically approved by all six towns at town meeting.
The housing bank coalition spent two or three months drafting the legislation before distributing the 10-page document to various boards and agencies across the Island - including the Martha's Vineyard Commission, boards of selectmen, housing committees and conservation organizations - to solicit comment and feedback before it is filed at the state level.
Island residents interested in the proposed legislation can view a copy at the selectmen's office in their town hall, and can submit feedback either through their selectmen or directly to Ms. Burt.
The housing bank coalition will also host a public hearing on the legislation with both Cape and Islands Sen. Robert O'Leary and Rep. Eric T. Turkington on Aug. 30. The two state legislators plan to file the bill as co-sponsors soon after.
Ms. Burt said so far she has not received many questions about the document, which strays very little from the concept approved in a nonbinding form at all six annual town meetings and elections this spring.
One concern raised at town meetings centered on the exemption cutoff sale price of $750,000; some voters felt the price should rise along with the real estate market. The proposed legislation now allows for that price to be adjusted for inflation every three years, as determined by the central commission and a majority of the town advisory boards.
Coalition members said the housing bank concept still has tremendous energy behind it, but they acknowledged that they are in for a difficult and possibly long battle on Beacon Hill.
"The word we're getting from Boston is that this is going to be a tough one," said John Abrams, chairman of the Island Affordable Housing Fund. "They tell us that we are really going to have to beat the bushes on Beacon Hill. We are in the process of hiring a lobbyist and are planning to gather our Boston donors and supporters in the fall to try to inspire them to support us both politically and financially in this effort."
Senator O'Leary said the bill will have its best chance for approval if it is filed as a home rule petition. However, it is not clear whether the legislation qualifies as a home rule petition, a section of the state law that allows voters at town meeting to ask the state legislature to enact a law pertaining to that town.
The housing bank concept passed with solid majority votes across the Island in the spring, but some selectmen were less than supportive.
"Both Islands and the Cape have done well in the legislature in terms of seeking additional local revenue sources," Senator O'Leary said yesterday. "We have a history of some success here. But the double-edged sword is that at some point there might be a reluctance to go further."
After Senator O'Leary files the bill it will be assigned to committee - possibly the committee on housing, of which is the vice chairman.
The committee will at some point hold another public hearing - either in Boston or on the Vineyard - where residents are welcome to submit testimony. The committee will then decide whether to kill the legislation or pass it on to another committee for further review.
Senator O'Leary hopes to eventually get the bill to the Senate floor, possibly by next spring or summer.
If approved by the senate it will also require a vote in the House before reaching the governor's desk. Gov. Mitt Romney is not a fan of new taxes, so the legislation may need wide enough support in the legislature to override a possible veto.
Ms. Burt said the coalition's optimistic timeline would bring the approved legislation back to the Vineyard in spring 2007. It then must pass another round of Island votes in either town meetings or elections.
While the one per cent fee on property transactions is still up in the air and at least two years away, property owners across the Vineyard may soon notice an extra three per cent surcharge on their property taxes.
In a campaign parallel to the housing bank this spring, Island voters also approved the Community Preservation Act (CPA), which funds affordable housing, open space and historic preservation through a property tax surcharge and matching state funds. The CPA, approved in Chilmark and Aquinnah in 2001, has now been enacted in all six Vineyard towns.
Oak Bluffs passed a bylaw to formally create its community preservation committee during a special town meeting in June, and is now advertising for town residents interested in serving on it. The committee makes recommendations, eventually voted on at town meeting, about how to distribute the town's CPA money.
Edgartown, Tisbury and West Tisbury are expected to pass their respective CPA bylaws at special town meetings this fall.