ENDING THE SHUFFLE

Written By: Marie-Claire Rochat | Photography By: Brian Sager

Tucker Holland and his team are building solutions to the housing crisis.

For the uninitiated, the “Nantucket Shuffle” sounds like a dance someone might break into after a few too many Sankaty Lights at the Chicken Box. But far from a dance craze, many islanders are personally familiar with the term, which actually refers to shuffling from rental property to rental property every season due to the island’s limited housing. With the island’s average home price of $2.2 million, many Nantucketers are finding it impossible to not only buy a home, but secure a reliable, long-term rental. This lack of affordable housing is not only impacting the community, but the local economy that depends on a thriving workforce every summer. With each passing year, the housing crisis has extended beyond the working class to island residents who would be considered middle class in almost any other part of America.

Hudson “Tucker” Holland did the shuffle with his wife and three young children for three years. Then he decided to do something about it — for everyone. Now, Holland, who was recently hired as the town’s housing specialist, may be just months away from getting the governor’s stamp of approval on Housing Bank Home Rule Petition No. 2794. Modeled after Nantucket’s successful Land Bank legislation, the Housing Bank would levy a 0.5 percent real estate transfer fee paid by the seller on real estate sales of over $2 million. Administered by the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the money will go exclusively toward the creation, preservation and support of affordable/workforce housing on the island. Holland believes the bill could be implemented as early as next spring. And if the 2018 real estate market continues on its current trajectory, the fee could generate upwards of $1.5 million in the first year.

The proposed bill received unanimous approval at the 2017 Nantucket town meeting and has since garnered letters of support from non-voting, seasonal residents, the island’s real estate community and the chamber of commerce. Holland sees it as a sensible solution for Nantucket and one that will complement the recent local zoning bylaw reforms that have encouraged the development of affordable/workforce housing. These reforms include allowances for increased density in workforce rental and homeownership developments; by-right allowances, such as apartments in mixed-use districts; tertiary dwelling units on residential lots; and an expansion of the Nantucket Housing Needs Covenant Program, to name a few. “An ongoing, reliable funding source is the most critical missing element in our efforts,” Holland says. “Recognizing the burdens already on the state budget, and current as well as anticipated additional burdens on our local budget… we are simply seeking permission to help ourselves. We believe the Housing Bank [will] be the most efficient and appropriate funding mechanism.”

Nantucket’s state representative, Dylan Fernandes, has been a staunch proponent of the bill and has worked closely with Holland. “I filed the legislation and have been advocating for it at the State House because it provides a common-sense funding mechanism for workforce and affordable housing for island residents who need it most,” he says. “The unique geography of Nantucket requires unique housing solutions, and we hope to advance this bill.”

Nantucket needs to address its lack of adequate affordable housing for the sake of the community and the island’s economic dependence on its workforce. Also, the state demands that the county comply with the affordable housing mandates that require at least 10 percent of year-round housing stock be categorized as affordable to a household earning 80 percent of area median income or less. If this is not the case — and Nantucket is woefully short at only 2.5 percent — and a good faith effort is not being made to meet the criteria, then the state can permit a developer to bypass local zoning bylaws in order to bring the county into compliance.

That almost happened a few years ago with a proposed development on Surfside Road that called for thirty-six apartments to be built on 2.5 acres in a two acre zoning area. There was fierce opposition from all town boards, and the developer ended up dropping the project. But, according to Holland, the state likely would have granted approval based on the guidelines. Clearly, a better scenario is for Nantucket to create the required number of affordable housing units in conformance with local zoning bylaws and Historic District Commission regulations.

The good news is that this is the case with three developments currently underway: Sachem’s Path, a development of single family homes, which is partially completed; the apartment units that the Richmond Company is building off Old South Road; and the proposed rental complex at 6 Fairgrounds Road. While the latter has been in limbo for thirteen years since the town acquired the land for the purpose of creating affordable housing, the contract
was awarded this summer and now appears to be moving toward planning board approval. These three developments will offer mixed income housing, says Holland, and, while it is certainly a plus that progress is being made, the Richmond and Fairgrounds developments are several years from completion. When they are completed, it is possible they won’t solve the problem entirely. “Let’s just say we could wave a magic wand and Richmond and Fairgrounds were finished tomorrow,” Holland says. “We would still be approximately fifty units shy of being at 10 percent.” The hope is that if the housing fund is implemented, it will kick start other developments or initiatives that will close the gap.

To date, the only opposition to the Housing Bank has been the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. “They have a long-standing policy of opposing transfer fees,” says Holland. “In 1984, they voiced strong opposition toward the implementation of the Land Bank fee, claiming it would have a detrimental effect on real estate sales. This was not the case.” Nor is it the belief that the housing fund will have a negative effect on the market. Last summer, several real estate professionals, including Ken Beaugrand, Brian Sullivan, Penny Dey, and Stephen Maury, testified at the State House on behalf of the bill. In a letter written by several prominent real estate professionals to Theodore Speliotis,chairman of the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, the lack of affordable housing was acknowledged to be a detriment to the overall health of the community. “Working people on Nantucket are forced to compete in a highly competitive real estate market that is being driven by seasonal homeowners,” the letter says. “Indeed, it has become all too familiar to hear of another Nantucket resident ‘throwing in the towel’ over housing and moving off-island, which destabilizes the community.”

In September, Holland was honored as The Nantucket Project’s Scholar of the Year. In a speech to the audience, he said, “To understand why I felt driven to help here, you need to understand what makes Nantucket so special: its natural beauty, its unspoiled architecture, its rich history in its remote location… and that it is cared for and enhanced by its extraordinary people.” Holland is committed to solving Nantucket’s affordable housing crisis and to helping the extraordinary people who are struggling to find housing on the island they call home. If he’s successful, the “Nantucket Shuffle” might just become a dance for joy.