Editorial by Alisa Magnotta
We’ve all seen the news about skyrocketing housing prices in our region since the pandemic hit. That has made our longstanding housing crunch even more severe. We simply do not have enough housing at an affordable price for the people who make our communities work.
One of the biggest obstacles to creating more affordable housing in this region is our outdated zoning that prioritizes single-family homes on large lots, and neglects the opportunities we have to create dynamic, walkable village centers by allowing multi-family dwellings in appropriate areas. We all love to stroll down main streets in Provincetown or Chatham to shop, eat, or people watch. But those types of neighborhoods are not allowed under most town zoning.
It’s great news that we can all play a role in creating more housing by changing town zoning and bylaws — but I’ll admit, it’s sometimes hard to get people excited about going to meetings. However, what is happening at these meetings couldn’t be more important. Together, we are building the vision and framework for our community’s future.
Do we want to be a community that welcomes young professionals and families? A community that welcomes economic and racial diversity? Will we build a town where our workforce can experience economic mobility through affordable rental and homeownership opportunities?
Our towns will attract the type of housing that we make the easiest and least expensive to build. Under current zoning, it is extremely expensive and difficult to get permission to build a multi-family property on a single-family zoned lot—even if it has been vacant for more than a dozen years.
Housing Assistance worked closely with the Town of Barnstable to get permission to build a pocket neighborhood of eight rentals in Hyannis in a transitional area close to downtown. It was a model of the type of small-scale infill development that can help revitalize distressed areas, providing much-needed housing without impacting undisturbed open spaces. Yet, even with the town’s support, this project would not have been feasible for a private developer.
The process for getting special approvals is too long, uncertain and costly for a developer to gamble on a development that may not get approved. However, if town zoning is updated to allow multi-family housing in certain areas, this kind of small-scale development would be financially feasible. By changing zoning, we could encourage development of the kind of housing we want to build the communities we envision.
Throughout the pandemic, short-term government rent and mortgage assistance has helped people who were housed, stay in their homes. We are emerging from this health crisis, but if we want to build thriving, resilient communities for the future: we need more homes. And to get them, we need all of you. So please get involved in your town’s decisions on housing. We can build a vibrant year-round community where everyone has a stable place to call home.