Concerned about the spike in year-round renters in higher-income brackets experiencing housing instability and seeking services from Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC), the agency took a step back to further analyze the market. In its newest initiative, HAC identifies causes of the housing shortage, its impact on the local economy, and recommends solutions culminating in a report: Housing on Cape Cod: The High Cost of Doing Nothing. The organization also announced the launch of a pilot program, Rent 365, aimed at incentivizing owners of second homes to rent year-round.
“What we found was concerning for everyone, not just people looking for housing,” said Alisa Galazzi, CEO of HAC. “Despite our best efforts to preserve the Cape’s character and charm through zoning, the housing marketplace is shifting in a way that is likely to have an impact on the services that are available and the price of goods because of a workforce exodus. We need to acknowledge how housing and the economy are linked and be as intentional about planning for housing as we are about planning for wastewater. Seniors and people on the Lower Cape will be hurt most of all because workers just aren’t willing to drive long distances to work short shifts in fields like senior home care. We have to begin taking a range of actions now, starting with a rental conversion program, accessory dwelling units, and long-range structural planning.”
HAC analyzed new and existing studies, and interviewed business, municipal, and community leaders about both the real-time impact of the housing shortage and the future economic and quality-of-life consequences. “Usually when we talk about the workforce or our economy or wastewater or housing, it’s in silos. It was really important for us to bring all those points of light into a clear picture of the totality of the problem and the future of Cape Cod,” continued Galazzi.
While Cape Cod has long had a second-homeowner economy, recent trends, including short-term rentals have created a housing inventory shortage, driven up prices, and caused workers to leave.
“As it becomes harder for workers to choose to live here, businesses will have to pay more to lure employees from over the bridge. That just drives up the price to all residents for goods and services,” said Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.
Bert Talerman, First Executive Vice President of Cape Cod 5 said, “We’re hearing from businesses that recruitment and retention of employees and the availability of labor they need to run their businesses is probably the greatest challenge folks are facing right now. Constraints of help are in some cases driving decisions on hours of operation, choices to take on additional business, and affecting levels of service. For example, you walk into a restaurant and it looks like a whole section of seating is open but they don’t have staff to service that section.”
The report forecasts that Lower Cape residents and seniors will feel the impact of the housing shortage first and most acutely. “The problem with importing workers from over the bridge is that you reach a commute time that workers are unwilling to endure. If they live in Fall River, they won’t drive past Brewster or Chatham,” said David Augustinho, Executive Director of Cape & Islands Workforce Development Board.
While wages and purchasing power are a challenge for year-round residents, that’s not the whole story says Galazzi. “Zoning has made the problem worse and reforming it will be a key solution. Eighty-two percent of the Cape’s homes are single family units. A one-size-fits-all 1-2 acre minimum lot size artificially constricts the supply of housing and drives up prices and leads to market inefficiency.”
The report notes “people take whatever housing they can get, not what is best for their needs” and pointed to the Cape Cod Commission’s housing study, which found, “If seniors were given the option of downsizing into appropriate sized units, this option could potentially fill about one-third of the current housing gap.”
The HAC report found “market inefficiency means low-income renters who aren’t lucky enough to qualify for an affordable housing program are forced to pay even more for a rental. The housing supply is so low that people further up on the income spectrum are renting houses that low-income people would normally rent”, which is particularly concerning for HAC.
But the forecast isn’t a fait accompli said Galazzi. “While there are some factors outside of our control, we found much of it is self-inflicted and thus can be reversed. By-right accessory dwelling units, density in village centers, and increased education and communication with local officials are tools we can and must take advantage of.” Galazzi plans to make the report, which includes a toolkit of solutions, including what neighboring towns are doing, available to local leaders in all 15 Cape Cod towns and is available to speak on the report.
During their study of the market, HAC found an oversupply of short-term rentals on the market. Consequently, the non-profit is launching Rent 365, a pilot program to incentivize people to convert their seasonal homes to year-round rentals. “We’ll provide 25 second-homeowners with all the resources a landlord could ask for and $1,000 upon signing a year-round market rate lease,” said Galazzi. Landlords will have access to lease templates, tax and financial information on how to make the rental a financial win, best practices for tenant selection, property management referral, and HAC staff support each step of the way.
The report and information on Rent 365 can be accessed at: www.CapeHousing.org.
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