Editorial by Alisa Magnotta 

As Earth Day arrived and we’ve been able to get outdoors more, I was reminded how more than 20 years ago, both the beauty of the environment and the people in our small-town communities attracted me to Cape Cod. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise my children in such a special place, and I am committed to protecting it for future generations. 

At Housing Assistance, preserving and protecting Cape Cod means both protecting our water and natural resources and ensuring that our local workforce can afford to live here year-round. We need to provide for people and protect our environment. With smart planning, we can progress toward both goals with every land use decision. 

That’s why for the past two years, Housing Assistance worked with the Association to Preserve Cape Cod on the Grow Smart Cape Cod project. Grow Smart created maps of every town on the Cape using the best available data and GIS technology to identify priority areas for natural resource protection and priority areas for moderate-density housing that year-rounders can afford. By agreeing in advance on the data and criteria used, the two organizations hope the project will assist in making local land use policy discussions more productive in addressing the housing crisis and regional environmental challenges. 

Together, we are recommending that towns, local land conservation trusts, nonprofit environmental organizations, municipal housing authorities, local and regional housing organizations, developers, the Cape Cod Commission, and other stakeholders work collaboratively on efforts to direct development away from identified priority natural resource areas and direct housing development to identified priority housing areas. 

The Grow Smart Cape Cod land use prioritization maps are not meant to be a solution for all the hard discussions and choices about land use we must make at the town level. They are not a regulatory document. But, the maps are a good starting point for fruitful discussions, where all interested parties can have access to the best data available and recommendations for how we can move forward to address our environmental and housing crises at the same time.

Housing Assistance has also launched Housing to Protect Cape Cod, a coalition dedicated to sharing facts about our housing crisis and encouraging people to get involved in creating solutions at the town level. Housing Assistance is joined on the coalition by the Cape Cod and Islands Association of REALTORS®, the Homebuilders and Remodelers of Cape Cod, and CapeBuilt Companies. We’ll engage with local businesses and chambers of commerce, as well as individual advocates to help support creation of more housing that our year-rounders can afford. 

We need to update zoning, create incentives, and use other tools to encourage people to build smaller, year-round homes closer together. Housing density in appropriate places makes the homes more affordable, uses less open space, and decreases our carbon footprint. We need community supporters to show up at local town meetings to help drive these kinds of changes. Sign up to join the coalition and learn more about how we can preserve our communities and environment at HousingToProtectCapeCod.org. Together, we can build a vibrant year-round community where everyone has a stable place to call home.