Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey and her administration will soon be releasing a multi-year housing bond bill that will include more than 20 policy changes to support housing for first-time homebuyers, workforce, seniors, and low-income individuals across the state. The Chamber sees this forthcoming legislation as a promising development in the Commonwealth’s efforts to overcome statewide housing challenges and keep Massachusetts a competitive place to live and work. Our team regularly hears from businesses of all sizes that labor supply is the top challenge they face in doing business on Cape Cod. Most of these businesses pinpoint housing as the root cause of our region’s ongoing labor shortage. Employers spend a tremendous amount of time and resources to hire and retain staff, offering pay increases, sign-on bonuses, and other perks to remain competitive. But these incentives are not enough to compensate for the chronically low availability and high cost of housing in the region.
The dire condition of the regional housing market has already changed the makeup of our workforce. A stunning 47% of jobs on Cape Cod are performed by individuals who do not live in the region. A third of our workforce crosses the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges each day. For the employees who staff our local banks, schools, public safety departments, construction companies, and service businesses, Cape Cod’s current housing monoculture – with 80% of all housing classified as single-family homes – simply does not offer the variety of housing types and prices to support a vibrant local workforce.
Although some Cape Cod towns are making notable progress on housing production, the fact is that our region’s zoning does not support the development of the diverse housing types we desperately need. The Cape Cod Commission – due to release its own updated regional housing strategy this fall - recently identified that less than 4% of Cape Cod’s zoned land is zoned for multi-family housing by right. This means that across the region, duplexes, apartments, or condominiums cannot be built except through a special permit – a costly and time-consuming process that can often result in months or years of local review and hearings. As recently seen in Braintree, these complex review processes allow ample opportunity for local opposition that can eventually kill an otherwise viable housing development. The risk and cost involved also discourages quality, small-scale developers from building the very types of housing we are lacking – for example, starter housing for first-time homebuyers, downsized housing options for seniors, and redevelopment of underused commercial properties to house seasonal workers.
We can’t build our way out of this housing crisis, but we do have to build. Without comprehensive zoning changes and a set of forward-thinking state and regional housing tools, Cape Cod will continue to invest money in the same limited housing options - using up precious, limited land while perpetuating the broken system that delivered us to where we are today.
The Cape Cod Chamber supports statewide policy solutions and local zoning changes that facilitate smart, community-focused housing production while simplifying local review and permitting processes. Some of the most promising strategies for Cape Cod include repurposing of hotel and motel properties for workforce housing, deed restricting properties for year-round use, and leveraging town wastewater planning efforts to create pockets of gentle density. Each of these strategies requires state or local policy action to be viable, and we are hopeful that the Healey Administration and Cape Cod towns will take the steps needed to make them a reality.
Cape Cod has always rallied to confront our biggest challenges. Threats from development in the past resulted in the creation of the Cape Cod Commission and the state’s first land bank. We addressed threats to our Upper Cape drinking water supply from jet fuel contamination at what is now know as Joint Base Cape Cod. We are in the process of addressing our lack of wastewater infrastructure to protect our coastal water resources. This is a commendable track record for the region, but these difficult challenges were and are about protecting this special place. The housing challenge is different. This is about protecting and valuing the people that live here as much as this special place. The very fabric of our community is at risk and we need bold action to fix it.