Island voters on Saturday rejected an effort by housing advocates to reallocate a portion of the Nantucket Land Bank’s annual revenue from real estate transfers for affordable housing projects. Even after an amendment to reduce the potential financial hit to the Land Bank, Article 97 was defeated with 572 votes in opposition, and 205 votes in favor.
The sponsor of the petition, Brooke Mohr, had sought to reallocate 25 percent of the Land Bank’s annual funding – which comes from a 2 percent tax on most real estate sales – over a 20-year period to help address Nantucket’s affordable housing crisis.
“Nantucket has a severe shortage of housing for year-round residents and the problem is getting worse,” Mohr said during Saturday morning’s debate at Town Meeting. “Conservation is no longer the most pressing issue we face. Housing is.”
Peter Hoey, a supporter of Mohr’s petition, successfully amended the article to reduce the timeframe of the potential reallocation from 20 years to 5 years. He contrasted the resources available to the Land Bank since its inception in 1983, to those of the town’s Affordable Housing Trust, which has just recently begun to receive taxpayer dollars to move affordable housing projects forward.
“The difference between these two fine institutions is that one’s job is substantially done, and the other has, to quote Robert Frost, ‘miles to go before I sleep’,” Hoey said. “The other difference is that one is bulging with cash, and the other needs new resources to continue its work. Affordable housing is the greatest crisis facing the community today. If we don’t compromise now, how are your children and grandchildren going to afford a home on Nantucket?
But Land Bank supporters said that the petition presented voters with a false choice, and while acknowledging the worthiness of the affordable housing cause, said funding should not come at the expense of the Land Bank.
“The Land Bank’s work is far from done,” said Sarah Bois, director of research and education at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation. “With reduced funding , the Land Bank’s ability to operate as it has been would be severely limited, and in all likelihood it would only be after this reduction of funding that people would realize how vital the land bank is to this community.”
Outgoing Land Bank executive director Eric Savetsky spoke at length about the accomplishments of his agency, and the critical work it has remaining in terms of helping the island community prepare for rising sea levels through the acquisition of waterfront properties for coastal resiliency purposes.
“We shouldn’t damage one important public cause to help solve another,” Savetsky said. “We can do both. As a community we can address both conservation challenges and our affordable hosing challenges without attacking each other.”