Editorial by Alisa Magnotta
Find out how you can get involved at our new website: HousingToProtectCapeCod.org
While many people agree we need to create more housing diversity and affordability, when it comes to town reviews of specific projects, the process often stalls. People are concerned about new housing changing the Cape. But the fact is, the Cape is changing. As the shortage of housing inventory worsens and rent and purchase prices continue to skyrocket, the people who make our communities work are moving away. Without new kinds of housing that offers more diversity and affordability, we stand to lose the vibrant village centers and diverse communities that make the Cape unique.
It is important that more of us get involved in town housing reviews. We can push for towns to move more quickly while still providing a robust citizen engagement and review process. Often, towns identify lands for housing and it can take 10 or even 20 years before towns issue a request for proposals from developers. That is unnecessarily long. Of course, there needs to be appropriate studies done and community input. But that process certainly doesn’t need to take decades. Nor should it take multiple studies on the same topic.
There already are multiple protections in place to ensure that all housing developments meet environmental and wastewater guidelines, as well as designs that fit within community context. There are studies done on environmental impact, traffic and parking, engineering designs to address wastewater treatment, town planner reviews, select board or town council presentations, community hearings, and often Zoning Board of Appeals reviews. Often, building designs are updated at several points in the process in response to community and town input.
In addition to these reviews for each and every specific project, the Cape Cod Commission has issued a Regional Policy Plan (RPP) that balances the economic, housing, infrastructure and natural resources needs of the region. The RPP recommends adding more housing density – smaller homes built closer together — in appropriate areas like village centers. This approach is in keeping with traditional Cape Cod village center-style, and it will reduce sprawling housing development on large lots that can chew up our remaining open space.
There is no one-style-fits-all approach to what this new missing middle housing must look like. Great housing design fits with its neighborhood. Sometimes it will be a few townhouses built in place of an abandoned commercial space. It could be “top of shop” apartments in our village centers. Or it could be larger apartment complexes where appropriate. We need to consider all our options.
At Housing Assistance, people come to us every day looking for help. In July, 32 people came to us because their landlord was selling and they had nowhere to move. In August, that number grew to 64. In just two months, that’s nearly 100 households who may leave the Cape because they have nowhere to live.
If we are going to stop the Cape that we love from disappearing due to a lack of housing, we all need to act quickly. Let’s look for the areas where we can agree that housing can and should be built, and move quickly to identify a path forward. Let’s show up to town meetings and public hearings, let’s work together toward housing solutions, and start shaping a resilient future for our communities.