Housing Bank Legislation Has Strong Environmental Standards



First, some background:  I’m hopeful that all six Vineyard town meetings and ballot votes will send the proposed MV Housing Bank (MVHB) transfer fee bill to the state legislature this spring. The 2% fee on real estate sales above $1,000,000 will provide a long-term steady source of funding for attainable year-round housing. Modeled after the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, this is a critical resource that our community has lacked for too long.

Our local legislation will contain innovative environmental restrictions that may have far-reaching implications. They could serve to raise building standards Island-wide. And with statewide enabling legislation currently pending — which would allow similar housing banks anywhere in the state — these standards can serve as a model for other towns, cities, and regions.

The Vineyard legislation provides that all funds spent by the Housing Bank (aside from administrative costs) must comply with the following requirements:

• No less than 75% of Island-wide annual funding commitments shall be allocated to projects on properties previously developed with existing buildings. This provision may be the most important. The Housing Bank’s task is not to promote development; it’s to provide stable year-round housing for locals. Using existing housing — and especially converting current seasonal and short-term rentals to year round — is the best way for the Island, and the least expensive.

• No new construction shall use fossil fuels on site (except as needed during construction, renovation, repair, temporary use for maintenance, or vehicle use), and all new construction shall achieve a HERS (Home Energy Rating Service) rating of zero and, to the maximum extent possible, shall produce no new net nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen pollution is the greatest threat to our ponds and groundwater supplies. HERS ratings measure building performance and are becoming more common in building codes and a HERS rating of zero means the building(s) is capable of producing as much energy as it uses.. These requirements are not easy to achieve. That’s the point.

• All new construction on undeveloped properties of more than five acres shall preserve a minimum of 40% of the property and minimize tree removal. This promotes clustering, preserves open space, and protects the carbon embodied in trees.

• All projects shall minimize disturbances to the local ecology. Native landscapes and low-impact development practices are important.

• If a project receiving Housing Bank funds includes both income-restricted and market-rate units, the requirements listed here shall apply to the entire project. They should, in fact, apply to all Vineyard development. Someday they will.

In addition to those requirements, there are three additional environmental priorities. These recognize that not all projects will be able to meet them, unlike the standards above. The MVHB will prioritize:

• Projects that are close to existing services (honor “Smart Growth” principles). Walkable neighborhoods close to services and public transportation.

• Projects that are not in priority habitat areas as defined by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Act. This speaks for itself.

• Projects that mitigate the effects of climate change, such as projects which do not use fossil fuels or have a master plan to delineate a path to fossil-fuel free operation and net-zero annual site energy consumption. This priority is for existing buildings (all new construction is subject to the absolute requirements above).

The MV Housing Bank Steering Committee is proud of this aspect of the legislation. Your participation is crucial to this legislative effort. Vote for the MV Housing Bank at your annual town meeting and at the ballot this spring. Please be certain to do that. Find out more at ccmvhb.org

John Abrams is CEO of South Mountain Company and a member of the Coalition to Create the MV Housing Bank Steering Committee.

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John Abrams
John Abrams
John Abrams is the founder and CEO of South Mountain Company and author of Companies We Keep: Employee Ownership and the Business of Community and Place. He blogs at southmountain.com/blog. “Some of my Patagonia shirts go back almost to the company’s ’70s roots. I exchange them at Worn Wear for refurbished ones that I like better than their new ones.”

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