As voters in four towns prepare to weigh in next week on warrant articles as wide ranging as school funding, zoning bylaw changes and a helium balloon ban, one issue has dominated Islandwide discourse ahead of annual town meetings.

“The housing bank. That’s the big one,” Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty said. “I mean, that’s what we’re all thinking about.”

Ever since proponents of a Martha’s Vineyard housing bank successfully petitioned to have two articles appear on every town meeting warrant earlier this winter, the issue of how to solve the year-round housing crisis has stirred passion, controversy and activism. Down-Island selectmen promptly came out in vocal opposition to the housing bank, raising questions about how the plan was developed and who belongs in the broader conversation.

The proposal would create a new housing bank modeled after the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank and funded with 50 per cent of the revenue from a newly created tax on short-term rentals.

On one side, proponents have mounted a vigorous, well-funded campaign that includes pamphleteering, electronic calls and public stumping, to pass what they believe is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to both enact and fund an entity fully devoted to preserving and creating year-round housing on the Island. Among the donors is the Cape Cod and Islands Realtors Association. The opposition view, articulated most fully by elected town officials, argues that the towns already have infrastructure to deal with the need for affordable housing and that the housing bank plan is an end run around a well-established process for budgeting and spending. In between are the voters. And come Tuesday, those who show up to town meeting are the ones who will decide what happens next.

The idea of a housing bank isn’t new. State legislators rejected a 2006 proposal that would fund a housing bank from an additional tax on real estate transactions. In 2017, voters overwhelmingly supported a nonbinding housing bank proposal that appeared on five of the six town meeting warrants.

What is new is the proposed funding mechanism.

The proposal is divided into two warrant articles. The first is a home rule petition that would ask the state legislature to create a housing bank made up of an elected, seven-member commission, with one member from every town and a seventh appointed by the Dukes County regional housing authority. The commission would then act as a grantor organization, with the power to fund year-round housing infrastructure developments that range from new construction, to remodels, to wastewater and nitrogen improvements.

The second article would create a mechanism for funding the bank.

“What we want to do is try to not make it complex,” said housing bank advocate Dan Seidman said. “Form the housing bank. Commit to funding.”

The Island’s legislative delegation, Sen. Julian Cyr and Rep. Dylan Fernandes pre-emptively filed identical bills in January that mirror the first article to create the housing bank. Both have said they will push the legislation on Beacon Hill if the proposal gets Island support.

While selectmen have concerns with the new bureaucracy that would arise from the first warrant article — and questions about its nuts and bolts — it’s the second proposed warrant article that they have taken primary issue with in the lead-up to town meeting.

In late December, Gov. Charlie Baker signed midnight legislation to expand the hotel and rooms tax to include short-term rentals. Although the tax was geared toward curtailing the Airbnb industry in Boston, it had the consequence of adding millions of dollars in potential revenue to Island towns with seasonal economies built atop vacation rentals. “The short-term rental tax was the spark,” said Makenzie Brookes, a paid employee with the housing bank campaign who has served as the organization’s primary spokesperson and organizer. “When the governor signed the bill, it was like, ta-da!” Now, housing bank advocates are asking voters to allocate 50 per cent of the expanded hotel, rooms and short-term rental tax to fund the bank. In towns like Edgartown, where the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has estimated the town could bring in over $3 million from the expanded tax, that could equate to $1.5 million for the bank. Islandwide, the number could be as high as $5 million per year, according to commission estimates.

For down-Island selectmen with already cash-strapped budgets, that’s a big part of the problem.

“With all due respect to the commission, that estimate is plucked out of the air,” Edgartown selectman Arthur Smadbeck said at a meeting this spring. Mr. Smadbeck has continually asserted that his town relies on revenue from the hotel and rooms tax to fund regular town business, including affordable housing initiatives, and can’t risk earmarking it in perpetuity. Edgartown selectmen, as well as Oak Bluffs and Tisbury, have sent letters to state representatives outlining their opposition to the warrant articles.

“It’s a gamble,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

The Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury and Chilmark financial advisory committees all voted unanimously to not recommend both the housing bank and funding legislation. West Tisbury voted 3-2 to recommend both proposals.

For those in favor of the housing bank, the gamble is an opportunity to attack a problem with money from those who helped cause it.

“Probably the major cause of the worsening of the housing situation over the last five years is Airbnb and other entities like that,” said advocate Doug Ruskin. “This revenue comes directly from the source of the problem. I would say it’s the height of fiscal responsibility to use a portion of it to alleviate the problem.”

This is the narrative that the housing bank campaign, a group of about 20 ad-hoc Island volunteers, has tirelessly disseminated throughout the Island since January. They include Island Housing Trust board members, architects, civic planners, and activists who hired Ms. Brookes, a former immigration reform advocate, as their central organizer and spokesperson earlier this year.

Ms. Brookes is their only paid employee.

According to Ms. Brookes, they have collected over 500 signatures, held presentations at various clubs and organizations throughout the Island, as well as a public listening session at the Performing Arts Center on March 22. She said they have spoken with nearly all the Island selectmen, planning board, and affordable housing committee members. In the run-up to town meeting, they have organized a get-out-the-vote team with volunteers in every town.

The campaign has spent between $20,000 and $25,000 on printed materials, rented space, graphic design, a website and salary for Ms. Brookes. Peter Temple has been in charge of collecting donations. Mr. Temple said he has received checks from approximately 15 to 20 individual donors, mainly from volunteers involved with the campaign, as well as a larger donation from the Island Housing Trust.

“Because this is lobbying activity, you can only spend so much as a nonprofit,” Mr. Temple said. “I’m tapped out.”

Ryan Castle, chief executive officer for the Cape Cod and Island Realtors Association, said the organization has paid for phone calls that have gone out to Island residents on the voter rolls, along with a mailer that will go out next week. He estimates they have spent $12,000 on the campaign.

“As an organization, we’re really concerned about making sure there is available and affordable housing for everybody that needs it,” Mr. Castle said.

Come Tuesday evening, the campaigning ends and the voting begins. Islanders hold the future in their (show of) hands.

“If there’s one thing this campaign has succeeded in no matter what happens on Tuesday night, it’s that everybody is talking about this issue again. And it’s something we all need to be talking about,” Ms. Brookes said.