EDITORIAL BY ALISA MAGNOTTA
Housing is one of the most important pillars underpinning our everyday existence. When our housing is no longer stable, our everyday security is threatened. That loss of security can trigger a deeply personal, emotional response. Disturbingly, the housing crisis is touching more of us on the Cape and Islands with each passing day.
The issues surrounding the availability of year-round housing on the Cape seem complex. There are several levers we will have to simultaneously pull to bring housing inventory and affordability within reach for any household with income under $200,000. The only one sure root-cause solution to address the shortage and housing expense is to eliminate the zoning and regulatory barriers that impede construction of new units. The current laws in most areas allow only one house per lot. That kind of land use creates dreaded sprawl, negatively impacting our water quality and critical habitats.
At the heart of this housing crisis is restrictive single-family zoning. Despite a history of village center-type zoning, with living spaces above commercial-retail fronts, most towns on the Cape moved to restrict any kind of multi-unit density in the 1980s. We have to tackle the incorrect assumptions supporting this type of zoning — for example, that it’s better for the environment — as well as openly face its racist and classist roots.
The zoning policies that made single-family homes dominant on Cape Cod, and across the country,
originated in racist and classist notions that Black and Brown people, and people below a certain income, should not be allowed into some communities. That truth can make people uncomfortable. Now that the crisis is impacting our middle class, I hope we will finally confront our deep-seeded beliefs by making decisions that allow our communities and the people who live in them to grow and prosper.
In our region we presumed large lots with single-family homes would preserve our precious wetlands and waterways. We know now that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have polluted marshes and ponds, and now must spend billions to clean up those bodies of water and install systems that will stop the pollution in the future. Add the housing crisis to this and we’re at risk of destabilizing our local economy.
We have, and undoubtedly will continue to, run into differences of opinions on how to best accomplish zoning changes. And that’s ok — thoughtful, professional disagreement, even spirited debate, is part of working toward solutions. But as we get ourselves organized and study all the data, let’s recognize the fact that we are losing our year-round housing and year-round community members. As we find our footing on an issue that we have been complaining about for decades, let’s not forget that, today, the known solutions are within our reach.
In the meantime, we must take care not to tear each other down when we disagree. We see that trend nationally and it is alarmingly toxic. Personal attacks detract from constructive discourse. They weaken the conversation and distract us from what’s important: We are all neighbors and we are all working toward the same goal — preserving the Cape Cod we know and love. That includes protecting the people who live and work in this special place.
To do this, we need to work together. No one agency, no one solution will solve this crisis. We have to confront it with a host of programs. We have to take it on together as a community.
HAC is working on housing solutions with partners from around the region — strategies that include addressing the inventory shortage, the affordability gap and the increase in homelessness. It’s real. We are seeing our Cape Cod community slip away and we can’t save it without you.
We ask you to join us in this worthy quest — and help foster civil and productive discourse along the way.