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Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket residents rally at State House for affordable year-round housing

Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket residents visited the State House on Thursday for a rally and meetings with legislators, calling for a real-estate transfer fee to support affordable housing.
Jennette Barnes
Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket residents visited the State House on Thursday for a rally and meetings with legislators, calling for a real-estate transfer fee to support affordable housing.

Three hundred people from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket traveled to Beacon Hill yesterday with a mission: save island communities from what they say is a death spiral of rising home prices and short-term rentals gobbling up year-round housing.

They called on legislators to pass a local-option fee of 2% on transfers of high-value real estate. The first $1 million of value would be exempt, and the money would support affordable housing.

Traveling in five tour buses, they pulled up in front of the State House for a day of meetings with legislators and staff, followed by a rally on the capitol steps.

Arielle Faria, co-chair of the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank, led the rally.

“We have seen firsthand the devastating effects of unaffordable housing, with families being forced to leave their homes and communities due to skyrocketing rents and home prices,” she said. “But we did not let this challenge defeat us.”

Several bills for real estate transfer fees have been introduced, including one specific to the Vineyard that would establish the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank and allow it to collect the 2% fee.

Administered by elected commissioners, the fund could provide down payment assistance or buy deed restrictions to convert short-term rental properties into year-round housing, among other initiatives.

Similar bills are pending for other communities, including a statewide bill that would allow any community to opt into a transfer fee.

Doug Ruskin of West Tisbury was one of many Island residents to meet with legislators and their staff.

In the “bullpen,” an open room where first-year legislators have their desks before they’re able to move into their permanent offices, Ruskin talked about the difficulty of finding employees on the Island, including workers for critical health and safety positions.

“Some of that is availability of qualified people; most of it is housing,” he said. “This is a critical existential issue for the Island.”

One legislative staffer said the real estate industry has opposed a statewide transfer fee. But advocates say the Martha’s Vineyard bill has support from Island real estate agents.

At the rally outside, the beat of two drums kept the momentum going as each speaker ascended the steps.

Among the speakers were Julianne Vanderhoop, a member of the Aquinnah Select Board and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe; Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden, state Sen. Julian Cyr; and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes.

Martha's Vineyard High School senior Graysen Kirk addresses the rally

High school senior Graysen Kirk, of Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, drew cheers from the audience as she decried the cost of housing forcing families to leave the Island.

“Who will work the restaurants? Who will run the boats that bring the people over here? Who will keep the beaches clean? The stores open?” she said.

“And this is not to say that this is all that we are here for,” she said. “We are not just servants of the wealthy. We are what makes the Islands resilient and beautiful. Get rid of the community, and you don't have an Island.”

Organizers said more than 300 people participated — about 250 from the Vineyard and 60 from Nantucket, based on registration for the buses.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.