State Sen. Julian Cyr took a swing through the Island last week, meeting with housing advocates, hosting a campaign event and outlining his priorities in a meeting with Gazette reporters and editors.

Facing re-election in November, the two-term Democrat named affordable housing as the number one issue faced by the Vineyard. But he also listed water quality and wastewater, mental health services, clean energy, PFAS remediation and beach access among his top concerns.

At an Oak Bluffs town Hall Thursday night, Mr. Cyr rallied support for the affordable housing bond, part of a $4 billion effort Gov. Maura Healey unveiled this fall and which will have its first hearing on Jan. 18. Earlier in the day, he hosted a campaign event at the Portuguese American Club.

“Our community is really at a crossroads,” he said in conversation with the Gazette, referring to housing. “It’s been at a crossroads for quite some time. But it’s really quite acute. This is also sort of an existential crisis for who we are as a people.”

Oak Bluffs town hall talk, left to right: MVC housing plannerLaura Silber, state officials Ben Bryant and Eric Shupin, Sen. Julian Cyr and his chief of staff Kathleen Patron. — Ray Ewing

Central to the Cape and Islands affordable housing efforts, Mr. Cyr said, is a transfer fee on local real estate transactions, part of Governor Healey’s housing package.

“For the Island, the biggest thing we need is a revenue source,” he said. “The transfer fee provides that revenue source.”

“We worked really hard, first to make sure that the transfer fee would have a shot going into this debate around this housing bond bill,” he continued.

He said he is confident a transfer fee will make it through despite continued opposition from the real estate lobby, in particular because of Governor Healey’s recent backing of the proposal.

“To have the governor saying I support a transfer fee, that’s what is significant,” he said. “It’s a huge win.”

Mr. Cyr, who grew up in Truro, said there is a tendency at the State House to lump the Cape and Islands into one basket, but he said he understands each area is unique and that even the two islands are quite different. The overarching issues, however, are similar, he said, especially with respect to affordable housing, something that affects him personally.

“I’m someone who doesn’t own a home, can’t afford to own a home, in this part of the district that I live in.”

Vineyarders turned out to hear discussion on affordable housing. — Ray Ewing

There is another unifying factor, he stressed: for legislation to be enacted, it has to go through the state house.

“For better or worse so much of what the Island community wants to get done flows through Beacon Hill, and so many of the things that we implement on the hill flows back through your towns.”

At the town hall meeting, he was joined by state official Eric Shupin, chief of policy at the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, among others. Mr. Shupin told the crowd that the inclusion of the transfer fee was in no small part because of lobbying from the Cape and Islands delegations.

“I can’t underscore enough the importance of Senator Cyr’s leadership on these issues,” he said.

Mr. Cyr, in turn, highlighted Vineyard efforts in promoting affordable housing legislation, especially through the Martha Goes to Beacon Hill event last year, when hundreds of Islanders traveled to Boston and rallied on the statehouse steps.

“It really made a big impression...helping my colleagues understand how dire the challenge is,” Mr. Cyr said Thursday evening. “That example of showing up, I think it will continue to be really key to advance policy.”

Now that the bill has been filed, Mr. Cyr said efforts will shift to moving the legislation through both the state house and the senate, with the goal for it to be on the governor’s desk by the end of the legislative session in July.

But while the housing bond bill proceeds through the legislature, Mr. Cyr said the passage of the home rule petition to establish the Martha’s Vineyard housing bank may take longer.

“There’s not really opposition to it. It’s just a really dense, meaty piece of legislation that is going to require counsel’s time and committees’ time,” he said at the Gazette office. “I can already hear the Ways and Means analysts saying, this sounds fine, we think maybe, but we don’t have the time to review this and make sure it’s right and to be put in the law.”

In 2022, prior to the filing of the housing bank petition, both Mr. Cyr and Rep. Dylan Fernandes recommended to Vineyard town officials that they pare down the document in order for quicker passage, but they declined to do so.

Mr. Cyr reiterated that need Thursday.

“Hence my prior recommendation to slim that puppy down,” he said.

Beyond affordable housing, Mr. Cyr said water quality and wastewater are among the most pressing challenges for the region.

“Wastewater infrastructure allows you to build more densely, more affordably, the housing that you need for year-round people,” he said.

The problem is more advanced on the Cape, he said, projected to spend more than $4 billion on wastewater infrastructure, but costs on the Island will be high too. In terms of funding, Mr. Cyr has highlighted the Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund — a program he pushed for back in 2018 — as part of the solution.

Towns enrolled in that fund can enact a 2.75 per cent surcharge on hotels and short-term rentals. The fund has raised around $100 million for wastewater projects, and though no Island towns have yet to enroll in the program, Mr. Cyr said he is seeing growing interest from local leaders.

Mental health services, clean energy, PFAS remediation and beach access also number among Mr. Cyr’s top priorities this session.

Regarding the Steamship Authority, he said accountability is essential and cited legislation that he and Mr. Fernandes filed to push the boat line to finally move on hiring a chief operating officer. He also suggested term limits for appointed members of the Port Council could be helpful to avoid complacency, but said recent calls to change the makeup of the board of governors would not happen.

Currently, the Vineyard and Nantucket representatives on the five-member board each have a weighted 35 per cent vote, while mainland representatives from Falmouth, Barnstable and New Bedford each have a 10 per cent vote.

“The perennial bill...around changing the representation, that’s going nowhere,” he said.

As Mr. Cyr looks to the upcoming legislative season and his re-election campaign, he noted a major shift in business as usual: the announcement by Mr. Fernandes to leave his position as representative for the district and run for state senator, in a different district than Mr. Cyr. The two men were both elected for the first time in 2016 and have had a good working relationship, Mr. Cyr said.

In addition to running for his own office, Mr. Cyr said he will continue to organize for the democratic party, including looking for candidates to fill Mr. Fernandes’ seat. He also does not plan to rest on his laurels.

“When I ran in 2016, I was a 29-year-old, first time, queer candidate from the smallest town on Cape Cod...It’s not lost on me that someone like me was not supposed to be the state senator.”