Editorial by by Alisa Magnotta


Facts matter. However, often we use our intuition or perception to form opinions and make decisions. There is a phenomenon called the graveyard spiral whereby distorted thinking overcomes a pilot and they slowly tilt the plane into a deadly spiral. Despite accurate readings on their instrument panel, they trust their own gut about where the horizon lies. Accurate information is right in front of them, but they choose to trust their instincts rather than the data on the instruments.

That distorted way of looking at information can play out in other situations. I have had this disconnect while driving. I spend an hour on the highway and then get off at an exit and drive through a residential area. My senses tell me that I am driving slowly, but the speedometer is clocking 40 in a 25 mph zone.

I see that mismatch between perception and reality sometimes when I hear people talk about the Cape’s housing market. There’s a false belief that we can keep things the same – in life, and in our housing market – by doing nothing. That is demonstrably false, as we are losing our workforce due to high-priced housing and a lack of year-round rentals.

The data and our direct experience interacting with businesses this summer show us how things are changing – for the worse. Some businesses are closed more than they are open in the middle of the summer money-making months due to the housing shortage. Access to critical goods and services is becoming increasingly challenging, as predicted in our 2018 report, “Housing on Cape Cod: The High Cost of Doing Nothing.” Lines are longer than ever at your favorite restaurant or ice cream shop because there are so few workers available. “Help wanted” signs can be spotted in the windows of about every store and restaurant.

Because the Cape is in a booming travel and tourism period, our instincts might tell us that things have never been better, but here are a few things our instrument panel tells us.

Rental vacancy on Cape Cod is less than 1 percent when 5 to 7 percent is considered healthy. We literally have zero year-round rental capacity.

Want to buy? It is not any easier. In June, the median sales price was $710,000 for a single-family home, according to the Cape Cod and Islands Association of REALTORS®. A recent report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that the income needed to purchase a median-priced home in Barnstable ($188,419) was higher than in Boston. We regularly see households making a combined income of $200,000 struggling to rent or buy.

The situation is worse for anyone who makes less. They are forced to leave the Cape in search of a place to live – and a better cost of living. We don’t have the visual clue of the dozens of families moving out every weekend because everyone is spread out over 15 towns and many more neighborhoods. But our office sees wave upon wave of displacement crashing upon our shores, eroding the fabric of our communities.

The first steps in solving a problem are recognizing and accepting the facts. To ignore the threats to year-round housing would be like steering the Cape’s economy into a graveyard spiral.

With six new housing units built in this country for every ten new families, a more significant course correction is needed to get ahead of this trend. You can be sure that all of us at Housing Assistance will continue to strive to find new and more effective ways to help our neighbors have a stable place to call home, including some strategies outlined in this newsletter, like our new THRIVE program and our housing development projects underway.

Ultimately, however, because it is illegal to build anything other than single-family zoning (with notable exceptions), our community and workforce are spiraling toward extinction. Until and unless we address our underlying zoning, the crisis will continue to worsen. Our next issue will be a special edition focusing on Advocacy and what we are doing to tackle such reforms.

Until then, enjoy summer on Cape Cod,