Vineyard housing crisis worsens as transfer fee sees setback - The Martha's Vineyard Times (2024)

Long-sought proposal cut from housing bill — but may live again.


Eunki Seonwoo



Updated June 10

New data released by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission documents the growing challenge of providing affordable housing on the Island, even as the Massachusetts House of Representatives appeared to reject a proposal to levy new fees on real estate transfers.

Vineyard housing advocates had ardently pushed for the measure, which would add a 2 percent tax on the sale of properties over $1 million that would be used toward developing affordable housing.

Adam Turner, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, said the transfer fee would be a way to buy some houses in seasonal ownership and convert them to year-round housing. “We can’t build our way out of this,” he said.

Despite the setback at the State House, the long-sought transfer fee may not be a lost cause. Vineyard Rep. Dylan Fernandes introduced an amendment Monday to get the transfer fee back in a $6.2 billion housing bond bill that is meant to increase housing production in the state.

The Massachusetts Senate has not yet released its version of the housing bill. Meanwhile, the bill to create a Vineyard housing bank was referred to the Joint Committee on Revenue last year and is still under consideration by state legislators.

Edward Augustus, the Massachusetts secretary of housing and livable communities, who visited the Island Tuesday, told a public meeting at the high school that he still saw “a lot of opportunities to move the needle” for the transfer fee.

“I wouldn’t get disappointed or frustrated yet,” Augustus said. “Nothing works in a linear line.”

The commission presented its latest “State of Housing on Martha’s Vineyard” report to about 100 people at the meeting

Laura Silber, Island housing planner for the commission, told the gathering that the average home price on the Island last year was $2.3 million, and the median home price was $1.55 million. Both are up from the year before.

She estimated that a family would need a yearly income of $650,00 to buy a $2.3 million house, assuming a 20 percent down payment of $460,000 and $16,000 in monthly carrying charges from a mortgage, taxes, and insurance.

“The folks who can afford this, that’s not our year-round community,” Silber said. Even the median home is out of reach for many, she added. A family would need a yearly income of $431,700 to buy a $1.55 million home, again assuming a 20 percent down payment.

“We’re losing a large portion of our workforce and our seniors” who have not seen their incomes rise as quickly as housing costs, Silber said.

Housing costs on the Island have skyrocketed since 2012, when the average home price was $1 million and the median home price was $600,000.

“We have a crystal ball into our future, and it is the island of Nantucket,” Silber said, noting that housing prices there are usually eight years ahead of the Vineyard. Last year, the median home price on Nantucket was $3.2 million, and it’s expected to grow to $3.55 million this year.

According to the report, more than 40 percent of the people in the Vineyard’s 6,899 housing units occupied all year pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing. Most experts advise paying no more than 30 percent for housing.

As of 2020, Martha’s Vineyard has a year-round population of 20,530, Silber said.

Regulations developed off-Island don’t necessarily help Vineyarders. State funding for affordable housing is restricted for those who earn up to 80 percent of area median income. That’s $70,150 for a single person on Martha’s Vineyard.

The Island had 430 such subsidized housing units last year.

Augustus, who is on a statewide tour to gather feedback for a state housing plan, told The Times the Vineyard’s housing challenges are “really daunting.” He said the Island needs affordable workforce housing and pathways to housing for the “missing middle” class.

While the housing bill by the state House of Representatives does not have the local transfer fee, Augustus said the legislation can still help the Vineyard. It includes a proposed seasonal-communities designation that could lead to more grants and programs to encourage development of affordable housing for year-round residents.

“We need new tools,” he said.

But hanging over the discussion before Augustus spoke was getting the transfer fee passed.

“Ultimately, the best [solution] is the transfer fee,” Jim Feiner, principal broker at Feiner Real Estate, said.

A previous version of this story stated the state legislature rejected the transfer fee. The Massachusetts House of Representatives’ version of the housing bond bill excluded the transfer fee but the Massachusetts Senate had not released its version of the bill yet. The bill to create a Martha’s Vineyard housing bank is still under consideration by state legislators.

Vineyard housing crisis worsens as transfer fee sees setback - The Martha's Vineyard Times (2024)


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