“Over my dead body,” State Senator Julian Cyr told the Nantucket Select Board this week of the prospect that Boston could cut Nantucket in line for the coveted housing bank legislation. “No way in hell are we going to allow the city of Boston to get this tool and not have this tool available for our municipalities.”
Cyr’s comments came after Tucker Holland, the Nantucket’s municipal housing director, raised concerns about Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s new home rule petition for a transfer fee on real estate transactions to fund affordable housing projects – similar to the one the island has been pursuing for decades. Holland’s fear was that Boston could jump the line ahead of Nantucket and other municipalities pursuing such legislation, therefore delaying or even preventing its passage for the island.
“I’m not concerned about Boston skipping the line here on Nantucket,” Cyr said, while calling Mayor Wu a personal friend. “It will lead to a groundswell that will push over the opposition we see largely among the statewide real estate interests. So I actually think the fact that Boston has filed a home rule is very encouraging.”
Nantucket’s proposed legislation, H4201, would establish a .5 percent transfer fee on all real estate transactions above $2 million to fund affordable housing projects on the island. The fee would be paid by the seller. The bill is one of a handful from Massachusetts cities and towns that are seeking legislative approval for a transfer tax to fund housing projects, including several that would apply statewide and allow municipalities to opt-in and establish a transfer tax of up to 2 percent.
Late last month, Mayor Wu announced Boston’s own proposed transfer tax to create funding for affordable housing, a bill that was endorsed by the Boston Globe last week.
Like other housing advocates, Cyr believes there is growing optimism that a transfer tax for affordable housing will become a reality. He added that the momentum for such a transfer tax is similar to what was experienced for the room occupancy tax legislation, which grew as more municipalities signed on. The only question, he said, is whether housing bank legislation can get passed during the current legislative session, which ends on July 31.
Cyr described his own experience losing his housing on the Outer Cape when the unit where he resided was converted by his landlord into a short-term rental. The incentive was clear: the landlord could make $25,000 from June 15 through Sept. 1, Cyr said. Those kind of experiences mean the younger members of the legislature like himself support the transfer tax legislation.
“Particularly among the millennial members, we feel viscerally,” Cyr said. “I’m priced out of my communities from a housing perspective, and I make a lot of money. I make a lot of money compared to a lot of people, right? I’m talking about that in caucus with my colleagues. I’m making it personal. They get it. I don’t see a world where we would pass something for Boston and leave everyone else out.”
The push for Nantucket’s housing bank legislation comes as the island’s affordable housing crisis has only deepened in recent years. While a number of new housing projects are in development, the lack of affordable homes and rentals continues to be a major impediment in hiring for businesses and for critical health and public safety agencies such as the police and fire departments, as well as Nantucket Cottage Hospital. As of the end of 2021, the median home value on the island is $2.78 million, and the average home value is $3.62 million, according to Fisher Real Estate.
“We are in a complete crisis,” Cyr said. “What we do now in the next several years will determine whether these are sustainable communities or whether or not these are just going to be playgrounds for the uber rich with an underclass of a workforce. That’s deeply problematic.”