No On Article 18: A Matter Of Trust

Rick Atherton •

To the editor: In Article 18, the Town is asking Nantucket taxpayers to approve a permanent operating override of $6.5 million for affordable housing. If this article is passed at ATM and approved at the Annual Town Election, it means that Town officials will be able to spend an extra $6.5 million every year going forward. They will be able to use this money as they see fit on where affordable housing projects are built and who can benefit from them.

It also means that we taxpayers will have lost our voice and given control to Town officials on this critical housing issue. We will pay for it in increased local property taxes, but we will have minimal say in how the funds are spent. Are we willing to approve raising these funds with little or no accountability? I say no, and I ask you to vote against Article 18 at ATM on May 6.

Here’s why.

Article 18 is not needed at this time because, when asked, Nantucket voters have shown tremendous support for affordable housing. In 2019, Nantucket voters overwhelmingly approved a $20-million citizens article for affordable housing that former SB member Tobias Glidden and I sponsored. One intent of the article (in addition to providing much needed affordable housing) was to approve funding for Nantucket to reach the 10% requirement for affordable units (often called ‘safe harbor’) to avoid the possibility of future unfriendly 40B developments. This was after the Surfside Crossing Project (SSX) project had been introduced. I believe this action paved the way for subsequent Town Meeting appropriations for affordable housing that now total more than $67 million. We have made significant progress in reaching the 10% state-mandated guideline.

Article 18 contains no specifics on how our tax dollars will be spent. If passed, Article 18 will generate $6.5 million in the first year, $70 million in 10 years, and $150 million in 20 years. How will these taxpayer dollars be spent? For what programs? How will the programs be structured? Will housing for public-sector employees be prioritized? Will the funds be distributed to a “Community Land Trust” separate and apart from Town government and voter oversight? If yes, who will manage the Trust? Will these funds be used to pay for borrowing another $50 million up front, as has been mentioned? The questions go on and on.

Simply put, Article 18 will permit Town officials to spend $6.5 million every year for affordable housing without close voter scrutiny. Is the recent controversial “agreement” between the developers and the Town in the purported SSX settlement (that resulted in the Town dismissing the ongoing lawsuit) an example of what is to come? (We understand that this non-agreement was negotiated by Town planning and housing officials and adopted by three members of the SB in closed session. The Town’s partners in the suit, as well as other stakeholders including the members of the Zoning Board, were not informed until after the fact.) Is this how we can expect to oversee the $67 million already allocated for affordable housing? Will we do the same for the forever override?

It comes down to trust. If we pass Article 18, we are saying we will leave it to Town officials to do the right thing. I believe that what our Town government needs is more accountability, not less, especially regarding something as important as affordable housing.

Let’s vote no on Article 18 at Town Meeting. The Town can come back in the fall and specifically identify the funds necessary to get Nantucket to the 10% safe-harbor point. Once safe harbor is reached, then we can all engage as a community to address the whole affordable- housing issue with an open discussion of its costs, benefits, and sustainable solutions.

Rick Atherton

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