Could this finally be the year Nantucket's so-called housing bank legislation passes muster at the Statehouse in Boston?
With a spiraling housing crisis on Cape Cod and the islands, along with numerous towns joining the cause and a new administration in the governor's office, there is cautious optimism among housing advocates that a bill granting municipalities the option to impose a local transfer tax to fund affordable housing could cross the finish line.
Last Friday, representatives of the steering committee for the Local Option for Housing Affordability coalition - a statewide group of over 100 organizations working on getting a local option real estate transfer fee for housing - met with state Housing Secretary Ed Augustus and his director of policy, Eric Shupin, at the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities. The group included Nantucket's municipal housing director Tucker Holland.
"With so many communities now seeking similar legislation to ours, and stated support from Governor Healey and Lt. Governor Driscoll for municipalities to have the tools they need to address Massachusetts’ housing crisis, there is cautious optimism around the prospect of this legislation finally coming to pass this session," Tucker told the Current.
Nantucket’s quest for the housing bank legislation has been ongoing for more than a decade, and the concept has caught on with other communities - on the Vineyard, on Cape Cod, and beyond - that have joined the fight. The island is seeking what Holland calls a modest request: a .5 percent transfer tax on real estate sales above $2 million to fund affordable housing initiatives. Had it been in place last year, it would have generated more than $6 million.
While the words "cautious optimism" may have been used before as the housing bank legislation advanced but ultimately faltered in the face of opposition from the powerful Massachusetts Association of Realtors, Holland said there are several factors that make this year different.
"The housing situation has only gotten more acute in the region and across the Commonwealth, and the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Secretary Augustus all are taking note," Holland said. "During the course of the last year, they have individually expressed support for a local option transfer fee for housing for communities that want it being amongst the tools communities really need.
"The need is not only at the traditional affordable level (80 percent AMI and less) but also at workforce / attainable levels above 80 percent AMI," Holland continued. "You have to be earning five times the area medium income on Nantucket to afford the median home. A reliable funding source, like the transfer fee, that can serve local needs is an important missing piece in municipalities being able to address their year-round housing needs. I believe the Administration’s support could be a game-changer."
Nantucket voters earlier this year endorsed a permanent $6.5 million tax override for affordable housing initiatives that will replenish the coffers of the town's Affordable Housing Trust each year with dedicated funds toward its initiatives. The vote came on the heels of voters endorsing more than $70 million in taxpayer funds for affordable home ownership and rental projects since 2018.
Despite the recent wins for affordable housing, progress has been slow in putting “heads in beds.” Those funds have resulted in housing for 36 year-round households over the past four years, and another high-profile project - the Wiggles Way affordable apartment complex off Fairgrounds Road - will soon be completed. But several properties acquired by the town’s Affordable Housing Trust since 2019 - including lots on Orange Street, White Street, Bartlett Road, and off Vesper Lane - remain undeveloped as the trust works through the protracted government procurement and RFP (request for proposals) process simply to settle on a design for the affordable housing projects that will one day occupy those properties.