Affordable Housing Trust Turns Down ACK Now Funding For Housing Bank Lobbying

An offer from the ACK•Now organization to provide funding for a political lobbying effort in support of the town’s long-sought housing bank legislation was quickly shot down this week by the members of the Affordable Housing Trust. 

“I’m in shock right now,” said Select Board member Dawn Holdgate, who also sits on the Affordable Housing Trust, of ACK•Now’s funding offer. “I feel extremely strongly that we have absolutely no association with ACK•Now…It makes me extremely uncomfortable with the community reaction to ACK•Now.”

The housing bank legislation, currently pending before the state Senate and the House (H.1377 / S.868), would allow cities and towns to establish a transfer tax of up to 2 percent on real estate transactions to fund affordable housing initiatives, similar to the fee utilized by the Land Bank. Island residents have petitioned the state for such legislation for more than a decade through home rule petitions approved at Town Meeting. 

Tucker Holland, the town’s municipal housing director, brought the ACK•Now proposal to the table during the Trust’s meeting on Tuesday. He noted that the housing bank bill was gaining momentum at the Statehouse in Boston, but faced significant opposition from the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, which had deployed a team of lobbyists to block the legislation from advancing. 

“We think it’s time to fight fire with fire,” Holland said in advocating for the collaboration with ACK•Now. 

While the Affordable Housing Trust itself can provide funding for strategic communications and other aspects of an outreach campaign to support the legislation, it is barred from funding direct lobbying efforts. But ACK•Now, as a registered 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, can engage in direct lobbying. Retaining a single firm to deploy a communications, strategy and direct lobbying effort would be ideal, Holland said, and it could be accomplished by taking advantage of ACK•Now’s offer. 

“The thought here in terms of engaging a party on behalf of getting this across the finish line at the Statehouse is that we would look at dividing the financial responsibility for the engagement along the lines of where the different parties can actually contribute,” Holland said. “ACK•Now would obviously have to be the party to pay for and engage in any direct lobbying.” 

But any involvement with ACK•Now, which became a lightning rod in the community with its effort to restrict and regulate short-term rentals on Nantucket that was defeated at Town Meeting in June, was a non-starter for several members of the Trust. 

Among the members of the Trust who voiced opposition were chair Brian Sullivan, Penny Dey, and Reema Sherry. 

“Why do we need to be involved beyond all the lobbying we’ve been doing?” asked Dey, referring to the testimony Holland and others have provided during hearings before the legislature. “Why do we have to something in concert with ACK•Now? I’m not supporting that.”

Sherry agreed. 

“The optics are terrible unless we can say we’re partnering with the Vineyard,” Sherry said, referring to a coalition on Martha’s Vineyard that is also interested in advancing the housing bank legislation. “I’m sorry, but I agree with Dawn and Penny about the optics.”

ACK•Now executive director Julia Lindner told the Current after the meeting that her organization is now part of the statewide coalition that is supporting the housing bank legislation, and the offer to the Trust was an acknowledgment of the significant undertaking required to secure passage of the bill. 

“We’re disappointed,” Lindner said of the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting. “I think ACK•Now, we know we haven’t necessarily agreed on everything in the past with some of the members of the Affordable Housing Trust, but we were hoping this is a consensus issue and a huge priority for the island. We were hoping we could set those differences aside and work together where our interests align.”

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