by Alisa Magnotta

The adage “we are stronger together” couldn’t ring more true than when it comes to dealing with Cape Cod’s housing challenges. When we work together, we can accomplish more, faster.

Toward that end, on November 3rd we’re officially launching Housing to Protect Cape Cod (HPCC) with our partners: Cape Cod & Islands Association of REALTORS®, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, CapeBuilt Companies, and the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod. This collaboration unites us in advocacy to protect our communities from the continuing loss of the people who keep our towns and businesses thriving, while maintaining the culture, communities, and environment we all love. It’s a collaboration in which your voice is critical.

We see the Cape rapidly changing as the individuals who make up our community are forced to move away. The housing shortage has hit crisis proportions and none of us have to look far to find someone impacted.

That’s why we are locking arms with our partners and committed to building a movement with a clear vision and blueprint for housing affordability and attainability on Cape Cod.

Here at Housing Assistance Corporation, the decision to become more engaged in advocacy is an imperative and the logical conclusion of an increasingly frustrating situation.

After 50 years of focusing on affordable housing for low-income families, a few years ago we started to see a different type of client asking for help finding housing. These are people with full-time, good-paying jobs who could pay market-rate rent if only there were rentals available. Today it’s nearly 85 percent of the calls we get.

It’s frustrating and demoralizing — we have few solutions to offer the throngs of people who are losing their rental housing because their landlord is selling. How can we meet our mission without tools and solutions for our clients?

Today, households making a combined $200,000 are struggling to rent or buy on Cape Cod. Let that sink in. Wages continue to be stagnant compared to the growth in housing prices and, while wage equity is important, we know that restaurants are not going to start paying their cooks or servers over a hundred grand. Nor are long-term care facilities going to pay CNAs or schools going to pay teachers that much. Wages are only part of the problem.

Even a housing voucher – once the key to housing security for many clients – is no longer in and of itself a solution. Voucher holders have a finite period of time to find a place to rent under state and federal rules. It is heartbreaking for us to see someone wait on a list for years, finally get the call that a voucher is available, and lose it because they can’t find a place to rent. We can do better. 

So, what can we do? We can band together to stem the outgoing tide on our own shores. Not only stem the tide, but turn it. Turn it so that there can be a good mix of housing to help Cape Cod thrive, to build back diverse communities that have housing options for all income groups so a healthy economy can sustain itself.

Change is possible if we work together.

We need to modernize the rules by which housing is built by updating zoning town by town to make it legal to build the types of one-, two- and three-bedroom homes that the vast majority of people call our office looking for. Creating a legal pathway for smaller units works: we need only to look at a recent example. Most towns updated their ADU bylaws and now hundreds of homeowners are building small apartments on their property.

We must also close the affordability gap for the rest with new innovative programs, like our recently launched THRIVE program, which provides a shallow subsidy and counseling to childcare workers and those working with people with disabilities.

These recent activities are what give me hope that we can solve our housing crisis and lessen the affordability gap with coordinated, courageous actions that support our entire community.

Advocacy can be a little uncomfortable for many of us the first time we dip our toes into the water. But the truth is it’s just a fancy word for being active in your community.

We face no other choice as an organization or as a community. We are losing our locals, our workforce, our community character and, at Housing Assistance, the ability to help our clients. We have to take action. Join us through Housing to Protect Cape Cod and together, we will do better.

Let’s save the locals. Let’s save the Cape. Together.