With Nantucket’s affordable housing crisis deepening amid the runaway real estate market, island voters at Town Meeting this week approved more than $40 million in spending for island housing initiatives with little debate.
That represents the largest sum ever allocated for affordable housing at a single Town Meeting on Nantucket by a wide margin. While there were a few questions about the spending and how the town could direct new affordable housing units to those who need them like police officers, teachers, firefighters, and nurses, voters appeared more than comfortable dedicating significant taxpayer dollars toward the issue.
The votes were a recognition, municipal housing director Tucker Holland said, of the scale of the problem the island now faces in providing housing for valuable community members when the average Nantucket home is selling for more than $3.3 million.
“If we think a police department and a fire department and a school, any number of non-profit organizations that serve the community, if we think any of those things are good ideas, we better make this type of investment,” Holland said on Thursday.
Here are the details on that $36 million investment, and how the funds will be spent:
The town’s general fund budget included $1 million that will be used as the seed money for a pilot program to offset the rental and mortgage expenses of town employees. The initial plan would be to transfer the $1 million to the Community Foundation for Nantucket, which would then allocate funding to town employees in need of housing assistance based on certain criteria.
The town’s general fund capital expenditures included $11.6 million (broken down into $1.625 capital appropriation with a $10 million bonding authority). These funds will be dedicated to the construction of affordable housing units at the town’s recently acquired properties at 135 and 137 Orange Street, as well as the former Umass land off Vesper Lane.
This standalone appropriation - which will require a debt exclusion override at the polls next Tuesday - will provide funding for the repairs to the town-owned LORAN Barracks facility located at 54 Low Beach Road. This facility is primarily used for seasonal staff housing for the police department’s community service officers. While not creating new affordable housing units, these funds are being allocated to preserve a municipal housing resource that allows the town to subsdize the housing expenses for its seasonal workforce.
This appropriation will provide the funding for the feasibility work, design, and construction of dormitory style building for town employees located on Waitt Drive, the new town road under construction off Amelia Drive and Fairgrounds Road. Holland said it would by styled similarly to the Nantucket Yacht Club’s new dormitory building on Whalers Lane.
This $10 million debt exclusion override would provide funding for the construction of approximately 12 new affordable housing units at the town’s recently acquired property at 12 Bartlett Road. It would also be dedicated to creating new affordable home ownership opportunities through land acquisition, down payment assistance, and/or construction at other municipally-owned sites such as the newly-acquired lot on White Street.
This $5 million in bonding for affordable housing initiatives in Article 37 is part of the annual Community Preservation Committee (CPC) spending article. These funds, which are raised through the CPC property tax surcharge, will be dedicated to the construction of units at the town’s Orange Street properties, the UMass property off Vesper Lane, with small portions going to Habitat for Humanity home construction and the non-profit Housing Nantucket’s construction projects.
Beyond the spending, voters also approved the refiling of the so-called Housing Bank home rule petition with the state, which would establish a .5 percent transfer fee on all real estate transactions above $2 million to fund affordable housing projects on the island. The fee, similar to the transfer tax that funds the Land Bank, would be paid by the seller.