Facing Defeat In Boston, Cyr Withdraws Amendment For Housing Bank Bill

JohnCarl McGrady •

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Nantucket’s long-sought housing bank bill came up short in Boston once again on Thursday.

An amendment that would have enacted the housing bank legislation that has been championed by Nantucket housing advocates for years was withdrawn from the Massachusetts State Senate’s omnibus economic development bill by Cape and Islands Senator Julian Cyr Thursday evening, as he feared it was headed toward defeat.

“The message won’t be great,” said Nantucket Housing Director Tucker Holland, one of the legislation’s primary supporters, “Massachusetts Association of Realtors win again.”

Cyr believed the amendment, a home rule petition which would have authorized Nantucket’s proposed 0.5% transfer fee on property transactions over $2,000,000, was likely to fail if it came to a formal vote. Previous attempts to pass similar laws to fund a Nantucket housing bank didn’t move beyond the House and Senate committees tasked with reviewing them, despite positive recommendations, and Cyr feared having a vote against the legislation go on the books.


Cyr has the option to introduce similar legislation in the Senate’s next session, an option he signaled he would pursue during the Senate hearing on the economic development bill. If he does, he may have a more sympathetic ear on Beacon Hill, as Republican Governor Charlie Baker is set to resign this fall and will likely be replaced by Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, Cyr told the Current late Thursday that he believes the legislation will ultimately pass muster at the State House.

Still, Holland thinks Cyr should have pushed for the amendment now and noted that Baker had previously said he would sign the legislation if it got to his desk.

“No one can entirely predict what will come out of committee,” Holland said in an email to the Current. “My thinking: why not send the signal that this – local option transfer fees – are an important if not vital issue and recognize it in some manner – not shoot down transfer fees in every single instance.”

Cyr faced significant obstacles in Boston to passing the amendment, with Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues reportedly strongly opposed to its passage and Senate President Karen Spilka hesitant to go against him. The Senate bill is also different from the similar economic development bill passed by the House, meaning the two chambers will be forced into a negotiation process to draft the final bill. According to Holland, House negotiators would have also opposed the amendment.

Facing a steep uphill battle with little chance of victory, Cyr withdrew the amendment, avoiding a potentially lengthy fight that may have entangled the entire bill, the passage of which has been a priority for both the House and the Senate.

But Holland thinks that with concerted effort, the negotiations may have been successful. “It’s all about if the Senate negotiators make [the amendment] a priority or not,” he said.

Before withdrawing the amendment, Cyr spoke passionately in support of the bill, pointing out that the transfer fee would have generated over $5,000,000 for affordable housing on island last year alone and that the Nantucket Land Bank already utilizes a similar transfer fee for funding.

“I’m so eager to resolve this issue,” Cyr said. He also spoke at length about the housing crises gripping his district, saying that it was an existential struggle, more so even than rising seas. “It’s having dire consequences,” he said.

While Cyr made it clear that he intends to pursue similar legislation next year and believes the housing crisis on Nantucket has reached a tipping point, Holland worries that the issue is spiraling out of control and the delay could be costly.

“Nantucket’s median home price has been increasing ~15-20% annually, on average, since we introduced our transfer fee legislation in 2016,” he said. “We can’t afford to wait.”

Since then, Nantucket has approved the legislation every single year without fail. In the build-up to the Senate’s vote on Thursday, Holland and other local housing activists urged Nantucket residents to write to Cyr, Rodrigues and Spilka in support of the amendment. Ultimately, several hundred emails were sent.

Holland believes that these efforts were not in vain. “I am very grateful to each person who took the time to write,” he said. “Their words of support of the measure and their individual stories will be a big part of the reason we ultimately get this done.”

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