BOSTON (SHNS) – High housing costs and low inventory are plaguing communities around Massachusetts, but on Cape Cod and the islands the crisis is “existential” for residents who want to continue to call the region home year-round, according to state Sen. Julian Cyr.
“If we don’t fundamentally change what we’re doing, we’re not going to have year-round communities,” Cyr told the Joint the Committee on Housing Wednesday.
Cyr, a Truro Democrat whose family ran a restaurant on the Outer Cape for nearly three decades, said the pandemic and the hot housing market it spawned exacerbated a problem that has existed for more than 20 years on the Cape.
The seasonal economy and the large population of residents who maintain only summer homes in Barnstable County means an even smaller and more expensive inventory of single-family homes and rental properties for full-time residents and the seasonal workforce that businesses rely on.
According to the Cape Cod and Islands Association of Realtors, the median sale price of single-family homes in Barnstable County is $600,000 and nearly $400,000 for a condominium.
Cyr said the price of all types of residential properties has climbed 24 percent in the last year, and 27 percent for single-family homes. In his hometown, the senator said only one Truro police officer lives in the town because others can’t find housing there that’s affordable.
“If your family doesn’t have a foothold here, you just can’t do it,” Cyr said.
Search For Solutions
The Legislature last session passed a reform bill to make it easier for cities and towns to make zoning changes to build more housing by lowering the vote threshold for local government bodies to permit projects. That bill, known as Housing Choice Act, also required MBTA communities to designate at least one zoning district near transit for multi-family housing.
Legislators and advocates told the Housing Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Arciero and Sen. John Keenan, that they hoped to build on the progress of last session by passing bills that would establish a statewide housing production goal, expand zoning opportunities for transit-oriented, multi-family housing and make it easier to permit accessory dwellings for the disabled.
Cyr’s bill (S 873) would focused specifically on housing in seasonal communities by allowing towns to direct unused Community Preservation Act funds to housing, defining and permitting “tiny homes” that could be used as workforce housing, and allowing for property tax exemptions on units rented year-round.
Alisa Magnotta, CEO of Housing Assistance Corporation on Cape Cod, said in Falmouth the town is struggling to hire firefighters because they can’t afford to live close enough to the station, and on Nantucket the town has to buy housing for its teachers.
Her staff is no longer dealing predominantly with the chronically homeless, Magnotta said, but families new to housing instability. In the last six weeks, 50 households have come to HAC because their landlord decided to sell in the hot housing market and they can’t find new housing.
“The dynamic here is different and exacerbated because our year-round workforce is competing with (seasonal residents),” Magnotta said.
The housing crisis, however, is not unique to Cape Cod, and housing advocates have pointed to studies suggesting Massachusetts needs to create 22,000 new homes a year, many of them affordable, to keep up with demand. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has estimated a shortage of 156,000 housing units or people with extremely low incomes.
Sen. Brendan Crighton, a Lynn Democrat, testified in support of his bill (S 871) that would establish a statewide goal of producing 427,000 new units of housing in Massachusetts by 2040, 85,400 units affordable to households earning less than 80 percent of the area median income and at least 8,500 units affordable for families earning less than 30 percent of the area median income.
The bill, which was filed in the House (H 1448) by Rep. Andy Vargas, would also allow inclusionary zoning bylaws to be adopted by a simple majority, expanded permitting opportunities for accessory dwelling units and allowing for mixed-use or multi-family housing developments near transit in communities across the state.
“This would allow many more communities to say, ‘Yes,'” Crighton said.