Wellfleet recognized for commitment to affordable housing

 

Wendy Cullinan, left, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Cape Cod, presents Elaine McIlroy, chairwoman of the Wellfleet Housing Authority, with the Community Partner Award for 2020. McIlroy accepted the award on behalf of the town of Wellfleet.

By Denise Coffey / dcoffey@capecodonline.com

WELLFLEET — The first Habitat for Humanity home built on Cape Cod was built in Wellfleet and dedicated in November 1989.

Elaine McIlroy, chairwoman of the Wellfleet Housing Authority, has always been proud to point that out. She’s been an advocate for affordable housing efforts for more than a decade.

On Friday, she accepted Habitat’s Community Partner Award on behalf of the town. Select Board Chairman Michael DeVasto will formally accept the award at a virtual Zoom meeting on Oct. 1, when Habitat holds its annual meeting.

“The town has been very generous,” Habitat Executive Director Wendy Cullinan said.

Money from the Wellfleet Housing Authority, as well as local Community Preservation Act funding, helped secure the property and fund early construction of the latest Habitat homes in Wellfleet. The two-bedroom and three-bedroom LEED-certified homes, complete with solar panels, were built on Durkee Lane.

Owners of the homes will close on the properties this week.

“All our interactions with the town were so supportive,” Cullinan said.

The two homes bring the total number of Habitat Homes in Wellfleet to seven. The Housing Authority awarded a contract to Habitat to build four homes on a parcel of land off Old Kings Highway, but that project is on hold. Abutters have filed a lawsuit against the issuance of a building permit.

The shortage of affordable housing on the Cape is well documented. According to Habitat for Humanity, the Cape has higher than average housing prices and lower than average wages, creating a wide “affordability gap” that promises to get bigger with real estate sales spiking since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That spells more challenges for a cadre of workers who keep the tourist economy running, care for aging residents and do a host of other essential jobs that pay relatively poorly.

“We’ve been reading headlines about homes selling faster than ever,” McIlroy said. “We’re so quickly removing homes from the potential market for rentals, and we’re driving up prices.”

Median home prices in Wellfleet are $596,101 according to the real estate website Zillow. Wellfleet home values have gone up 1.5% over the past year and Zillow predicts they will rise 3.6% in 2021.

A three-bedroom Habitat home on Cape Cod costs a homeowner an average of $146,250, with monthly payments between $650 and $800 per month. The homes in Wellfleet cost Habitat about $175,000 to build because of solar panels built onto the roofs.

McIlroy called Habitat the only entity on the Cape willing to build just a few homes at a time for ownership.

“Habitat has this amazing model to build beautiful homes using high quality materials, with volunteer labor and generous donors,” she said. “Habitat has people who believe in what they do.”

Habitat received 45 applications for the two Wellfleet homes.

Cullinen called the discrepancy between wages and housing costs outrageous.

“Affordable housing needs to be on everyone’s minds,” she said.

Wellfleet voters approved a $3.8 million water system upgrade at town meeting Sept. 6. The project could make it feasible for the town to build 46 units of affordable housing on Lawrence Road.

Another parcel of land was given to the housing authority at last year’s town meeting. McIlroy said the housing authority is trying to acquire more land, through purchase or donation, before they send out a request for proposals for a developer to build one or a few homes.

Ideally, Habitat would bid on the project, she said.

HAC streamlines mortgage, rent assistance

HAC streamlines mortgage, rent assistance

ORLEANS — Some would say it’s a challenge to keep a roof over your head even in the best of times across Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties, which are the areas served by the Housing Assistance Corp. (HAC), a nonprofit that is seeing big increases in requests for financial aid.

With unemployment rates stuck in the double-digits across the Lower and Outer Cape (see the chart below), it’s no wonder that requests for financial help with mortgage and rent payments are spiking.

The need is so great, says the Hyannis-based organization, it has launched a new online application process to streamline assistance for those unable to make payments.

Available at haconcapecod.org, the application enables residents to complete one form to access multiple public and private funding programs in one fell swoop.

HAC said it has in excess of $1.5 million to distribute to qualified, year-round residents.

“We are advocating for funding for the entire Cape and Islands region and demonstrating that Housing Assistance has region-wide solutions that efficiently and effectively serve people whose housing is in danger today,” Housing Assistance CEO Alisa Magnotta said in a statement.

Public sources of funding accessible to Housing Assistance include RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition) and ERMA (Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance), which is a new state fund created this year to provide direct funding to eligible households that have suffered financial hardship as a result of the pandemic State of Emergency put into place earlier this year.

In addition to these state sources, HAC has its own Private Homeless Prevention program, which provides one-time emergency financial assistance for individuals and families who don’t qualify for public funding but need support to stay in their homes.

And last April HAC created the Workforce Housing Relief Fund, an expansion of its prevention program, to cover up to three months’ rent or mortgage payments for those financially impacted by the pandemic.

“We can make our public dollars go further by leveraging our organization’s infrastructure and efficiencies,” Magnotta said. “Housing Assistance already has the staff, technology, processes, and expertise in place so that we can take action to assist residents in need immediately.”

When compared to the same period last year, beginning with the mid-March shutdown, Housing Assistance has seen a 325 percent increase in foreclosure prevention requests and a 413 percent increase in requests for help with past-due rent.

Put into actual people numbers: In 2019 12 households sought help to make mortgage payments between mid-March and the end of June, and in those same months this year the number is 51.

Renters needing help rose during the same time period; those in arrears who requested help in 2019 totaled 46, and in 2020 the number jumped to 236.

Here’s a round-up of available assistance; eligibility criteria varies somewhat:

* With the state-funded RAFT, eligible clients will demonstrate 1) loss of income or increase in expenses that has caused housing instability, 2) that they do not have other resources to make the payment, and 3) that the payment will stabilize their housing. Payments are made directly to landlord, mortgage company or other vendor. Eligible clients can make up to 50 percent of Area Median Income. In Barnstable County that translates to $43,500 for a three-person household, for example.

* Under ERMA, eligible clients can make between 50 percent and 80 percent of Area Median Income. The limit for a three-person household in Barnstable County is $69,600.

* With the Workforce Housing Assistance Fund, eligible clients can make up to 100 percent of Area Median Income, and must not be eligible for other state, federal or local relief. Priority is given to clients impacted by COVID or the related economic downturn. Locally, a three-person household with income up to $87,000 can be eligible.

* With HAC’s Private Prevention program, up to $500 can be dispensed to help keep a client housed. There is no annual income limitation for this program. However, eligible clients will have to demonstrate loss of income or increase in expenses that has caused housing instability; that they do not have other resources to make the payment, and that the payment will stabilize their housing. Payments are made directly to a landlord, mortgage company or other vendor.

Residents who need support with their rent or mortgage payments can contact Housing Assistance at 508-771-5400 or email hac@haconcapecod.org.

Unemployment

rates as of July 11

Truro: 18 percent

Provincetown: 15 percent

Harwich: 15 percent

Chatham: 14 percent

Eastham: 14 percent

Wellfleet: 13 percent

Orleans: 13 percent

Brewster: 12 percent

Source: Pioneer Institute, Boston-based public research group

Housing Assistance Launches Online Application for Rental and Mortgage Funding

Housing Assistance Launches Online Application for Rental and Mortgage Funding

HYANNIS – Housing Assistance Corporation has launched an online application for rental and mortgage assistance that will allow clients to fill out one application form to access multiple different financial assistance programs.

$1,500,000 in funding from the programs is available for qualified, year-round residents including Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance, Homebuilders of Cape Cod Fund, town specific funds, and the HAC Workforce Housing Relief Fund.

Staff from HAC will work remotely with clients to determine the programs that are a best fit for the client’s situation, as well as help the client navigate existing systems for assistance.

HAC said that it is ready to offer assistance as the eviction moratorium and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Insurance comes to an end.

Those in need of assistance with rent or mortgage can contact Housing Assistance at 508 771-5400 or email hac@haconcapecod.org.

The new online application can be found here.

Outer Cape residents seek answers on new rental housing in Eastham

Outer Cape residents seek answers on new rental housing in Eastham

By Mary Ann Bragg
Jul 21, 2019

EASTHAM — Eastham resident Laura Simmons is looking for a reasonably priced place to rent, and so are James Gotham and Jacquelyn Miller.

“I have to get out of my place by October,” said Simmons, who cares for her parents in Plymouth and a man in Orleans and works at a drugstore. “I’m a little nervous. I’ve been there seven years. Everything is temporary, but I didn’t think it would be this quick.”

Most seats were taken at an information session Thursday about the new 65-unit Village at Nauset Green rental housing development on Brackett Road. Although reservations for the meeting at the Elks Lodge in Eastham weren’t required, a little over 100 people told Pennrose, the housing developer, they were coming.

More than that actually showed up.

“There’s definitely a significant need,” Karmen Cheung, an associate developer for Pennrose, said.

Eastham has about 6,000 places to live, but the use and occupancy of those residences is skewed toward seasonal use by the people who own houses, such as retirees and second-home owners, according to the town’s housing production plan. Homes in Eastham tend to sell at higher prices than both the county and state averages, and the number of year-round rentals in Eastham is very low.

“More subsidized rental housing is necessary to make living in Eastham more affordable, particularly for those with very limited financial means,” according to the housing plan in identifying the town’s first priority.

The $23 million Village at Nauset Green development, located on town land, is a move in that direction, according to town officials.

“It’s something we all need here, especially down this end of the Cape,” said Miller, who was with her daughter Olivia, 10. “We do rent, but the rent would be half of what we’re paying now.”

Eastham resident Marie Collins is looking for alternatives, too, but for a friend who has multiple sclerosis and who needs to find another place to live.

“So, I’m trying to find her a place,” Collins said. Her friend has filled out the pre-application form that Pennrose requests. She and her friend have taken all the other steps that are needed, Collins said. Pennrose is accepting pre-applications through Sept. 3, and a lottery two days later will determine who goes forward in the screening process.

“We’re going to keep our fingers crossed that she gets in here, and then I’ll help her move,” Collins said.

With 18 residential buildings, and four apartments per building, the development is meant to give a sense of a village, according to Pennrose and town officials. The property will have a walking trail, lawns, a playground, picnic tables, a bus shelter, mailboxes, a community garden and other amenities. There are 27 one-bedroom apartments, 31 two-bedroom apartments, seven three-bedroom apartments and a community building, with a reception area and management offices.

Eligibility to move in is based on the number of people in the household, the total annual household income, credit and criminal background checks, in-person interviews including pets, and other criteria. Generally, incomes need to fall at or below 90 percent of the annual median income for Barnstable County. For example, at the 90-percent level, a two-person household could earn a maximum of $65,700 qualifying annual household income to be considered for the housing.

Residents of Eastham, Wellfleet and Orleans will receive some preferential treatment in the application process, according to Pennrose.

“This is harder than actually buying a house,” said Gotham, a house remodeler who said he has lived on the Cape for 50 years. “I’ve been homeless for two years.” He said he lives in each home while he fixes it up, but then he has to move on. This time, he said, he has to be out by Oct. 1.

“I’m really, really aggravated about this process,” Gotham said. “They want everything.” Landlord testimony, for example, would be difficult for him, given his living situation, he said.

At least two people said they worried about the pet policy, specifically for dogs, with the limit of 35 pounds per animal and a maximum of two animals for each apartment.

The Eastham Board of Selectmen began negotiations in mid-2016 with Pennrose, which is based in Philadelphia. The town owned the land since 2001 but had never been able to attract a developer to submit a proposal for affordable housing there. That changed in 2016 when the new municipal water system allowed for increased density in the area.

Late in 2017, the state announced the housing development would receive $10 million over 10 years in federal low-income housing tax credits and $875,000 from the state for five years. At annual town meetings in Eastham, voters approved $750,000 in Community Preservation Act money for the development. Because the project is considered a regional effort, town meetings in Wellfleet and Orleans each contributed $100,000 in preservation act money this year as well.

Wellfleet housing ‘can happen here’

Wellfleet Housing ‘Can Happen Here’

By Edward Miller
March 21, 2019

https://wellfleet.wickedlocal.com/news/20190321/wellfleet-housing-can-happen-here

 

The proposed site for community housing is across from the elementary school, has town water and is within walking distance of the Wellfleet center.

WELLFLEET — Two large affordable housing projects are going forward in Truro and Eastham, and the same “can happen here,” a seasoned development lawyer told the crowd that assembled Monday evening to learn about a proposal for community housing in Wellfleet.

Voters will have a chance to set the project at 95 Lawrence Road in motion at the April 22 annual town meeting. The select board and planning board have both unanimously endorsed a warrant article authorizing the use of up to six acres of the 9.3-acre town-owned parcel across from the Wellfleet Elementary School for community housing by negotiating a long-term lease of the land to a developer.

Jeff Sacks, the attorney, is a partner at the firm Nixon Peabody with 35 years of experience in housing development. He told the 70 or more people who crowded into the Council on Aging Monday that the timing was good for potentially securing both federal and state funding for the project. Sacks lives in Newton, where he served on that city’s housing authority for 22 years; he also owns a house in Wellfleet. He noted that Wellfleet ranks last among Cape Cod towns with just 1.9 percent of its housing stock classified as affordable.

“We can take advantage of state and federal resources that are competitively awarded,” Sacks said. “It’s very important to pay attention to funding rounds. Massachusetts just passed a bond issue to fund all these programs. If this is approved by the town in April, a developer could be ready in February or March of 2020.”

Sacks explained that the developer of the project would be responsible for putting the financing together. The town and the developer would need to work together to align the project’s goals with those of the available state and federal resources.

Monday’s forum also offered presentations by the Wellfleet Housing Authority and Local Housing Partnership, which have spearheaded the proposal. Sharon Rule-Agger of the housing partnership summarized the well-documented need for rental housing in town, noting that between 1990 and 2015 Wellfleet had lost 62 percent of its residents ages 25 to 44.

“We continue to lose them,” she said. “We’re losing year-round housing at an alarming rate to second homes. Rents are rising much faster than income. Many people are paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing.”

The needs of aging residents are also not being met, said Rule-Agger. “Some find their houses are too large and expensive to maintain, and they are unable to find alternative housing in town.”

Local employers are finding it harder to attract and retain workers, she said: “If we do nothing we will find ourselves paying more and more for goods and services that become more and more scarce.”

The town’s 2017 housing needs assessment and action plan called for the development of 60 affordable units over the next 10 years, with 75 percent of them rentals with one to three bedrooms. A feasibility study of the Lawrence Road parcel by Coastal Engineering found that “it has the capacity for reasonable density on a standard septic system,” said Rule-Agger. “It’s on town water, it’s accessible from both Lawrence Road and Long Pond Road, it’s relatively level, and it’s within walking distance of the school, public transportation and the town center.”

No decisions about the design of the project would be made until after the town meeting vote, she said. Next would come a series of public sessions for townspeople to express their desires and concerns, followed by the writing of requests for proposals from potential developers.

Some ideas for the project are already on the table: that it should include a mix of dwelling sizes and rents to suit a range of incomes, including market rate units; serve people with young children and teenagers as well as the elderly; support the needs of town employees; maximize energy efficiency; ensure the safety of the adjoining school playing fields; provide for onsite management; maximize preference for local residents; and achieve “right-size design.”

The state’s fair housing laws limit the extent of local preference to a maximum of 70 percent of the units, which can be reserved for current town residents, town employees and families with children in the local schools, Sacks said.

“I started my life in rental housing,” said housing authority chair Elaine McIlroy. “Is there anybody here who didn’t?”

No hands were raised.

“Right now we don’t have any,” she continued. “This project and planning for it will give us a good reason to come together and talk about a vision for the town.”

When the meeting was opened to questions from the audience, almost every speaker began by saying he or she supported the proposal.

John Morrissey questioned the idea that the project could be completed “at little or no cost to the town. What does that mean?”

Sacks reviewed the finances for Truro’s current 41-unit Cloverleaf project, which is being developed by Community Housing Resource of Provincetown. He pointed out that just five percent of the $12.1 million budget was coming from the town in the form of Community Preservation Act funds. And the 65-unit Pennrose project in Eastham “looks very much like this,” he added.

Morrissey persisted. “Do towns run into problems?” he asked.

“Towns always run into problems,” Sacks said. “Real estate development is a complex, long-term project. If this goes well it won’t be completed for three years. Some of the federal resources could disappear in Trump’s budget. What this warrant article does is put the town in a position to make this happen. If things go well, in three or four years families could be living there.”

“What happens if the developer goes bankrupt?” asked David Psathas.

“You plan for that not to happen,” said Sacks. “Developers do go out of business. But the lease will give the town some important hooks. There will be promises on how it is maintained. There will be a lot of stakeholders that will make a difference. All these different funders are going to care about it running well. The benefit of having all these parties invest in the town is their interest in having it look good.”

“We have to change our idea of what community housing looks like and who needs it,” said select board chair Janet Reinhart. “This is going to be well done. We’re going to be proud of it.”

Sharon Rule-Agger and Susan Spear of the local housing partnership. Mia Baumgarten, of the housing authority, is in the background.

Tax credits used to ease housing crunch in Eastham

Tax credits used to ease housing crunch in Eastham

https://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20181223/tax-credits-used-to-ease-housing-crunch-in-eastham

By Mary Ann Bragg
Dec 23, 2018

Village at Nauset Green, a 65-unit rental apartment complex off Brackett Road, is meant to break the housing mold in Eastham.

NORTH EASTHAM — A new rental housing project will open up living spaces for people on the lower end of the region’s median annual income, according to town officials. At least half the project’s construction financing has come from an important method of raising money for affordable-housing developers.

“Tax credits, that’s the key to the whole thing,” Pennrose Regional Vice President Charlie Adams said. Pennrose, which is based in Philadelphia, was awarded a construction and operations contract for Village at Nauset Green by the Eastham Board of Selectmen. The 65-apartment project off Brackett Road is meant to break the housing mold in Eastham, known as the gateway to the Cape Cod National Seashore, where single family residences predominate and with prices rising due to demand from second-home owners and retirees.

Half the $23 million construction cost has come in the form of investment tax credits, according to Pennrose and other announcements.

The tax credit program, created in 1986, is part of the Internal Revenue Service tax code. It is the primary source of federal money for affordable rental housing. The state Department of Housing and Community Development, which administers the program in Massachusetts, awards a certain amount of tax credits to each approved project. Each project developer then sells the credits to an investor, such as a bank or other financial services company, that seeks a tax credit to use over 10 years to offset future taxes.

With an award of $10 million in federal low-income housing tax credits, Pennrose was able to sell that to JP Morgan Chase to obtain $9.3 million to finance the Eastham construction, according to a spokesperson for Hunt Capital Partners, which facilitated the transaction and has worked with Pennrose in the past. Likewise, with an award of $4.375 million in state tax credits, Pennrose was able to obtain $3.5 million after Dorfman Capital facilitated the sale of the credits to a private corporation, Adams said.

A year ago, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the allocation of more than $15 million in state and federal low-income housing tax credits, known as LIHTC, to support six new projects in Massachusetts, including the Eastham project.

Of the sixty-five apartments, 11 will be for households earning up to 30 percent of the area median income; 39 units will be for households earning up to 60 percent of area median income; three units will be for adults with disabilities; and the rest will be for rent to households with income equal to 90 percent of area median income. The area median income for Eastham is $86,200 for a family of four.

“This is the first larger-sized affordable-housing project for the town of Eastham,” town Community Preservation Committee co-chair Daniel Coppelman said. One of the benefits of this project is to provide crafts- and tradespeople a place to live in Eastham, Coppelman said. The housing is also for younger people who are just getting started, who may be living with their parents or with friends, according to Eastham Selectwoman Aimee Eckman.

The state also provided $2.55 million through a combination of existing funds and vouchers. A $4.4 million permanent first mortgage will be provided by Massachusetts Housing Partnership. Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency provided $1.5 million from a workforce housing program. From the town of Eastham came $1.45 million from Community Preservation Act receipts, an affordable housing trust and the town’s general funds. The towns of Wellfleet and Orleans each contributed $100,000 as well.

The Eastham selectmen began negotiations in mid-2016 with Pennrose. The town had owned the 11.2 acres since 2001 but had never been able to attract a developer to submit a proposal for affordable housing there. That changed in 2016 when the new municipal water system allowed for increased density in the area. Pennrose has a 99-year ground lease for the project, according to the housing partnership agency.

Eastham’s New Affordable Housing Complex is Under Way

Lower Cape TV – Eastham’s New Affordable Housing Complex is Under Way

Groundbreaking for Village at Nauset Green

EASTHAM, MA – Construction has begun at the Village at Nauset Green, an affordable housing development that will be built on the Campbell-Purcell property in North Eastham. The development will house 65 desperately-needed units of affordable housing, serving residents across the Outer Cape.

$23M project aims to bring more affordable housing to Cape Cod

$23M project aims to bring more affordable housing to Cape Cod

https://www.bizjournals.com/boston/news/2018/12/10/23m-project-aims-to-bring-more-affordable-housing.html

By

December 10, 2018

Philadelphia-based Pennrose LLC has started construction on the Village at Nauset Green, a 65-unit affordable and workforce apartment development in Eastham.

Philadelphia-based Pennrose LLC has started construction on the Village at Nauset Green, a 65-unit affordable and workforce apartment development in Eastham.

The Cape Cod community has few rental properties and a low inventory of affordable housing, Pennrose said in a statement. The $23 million project will be developed at 4300 State Highway. The town of Eastham owns the 11.2-acre parcel and designated it for affordable housing development.

“We commend the Town of Eastham for their hard work and having the vision to establish much needed affordable and workforce housing that will better serve local residents,” said Charlie Adams, regional vice president at Pennrose, in a statement. “With a very low percentage of affordable housing in the region, Village at Nauset Green will help bridge this gap by creating a high-quality development that is an asset to the community.”

The project’s architect is The Architectural Team of Chelsea, and the general contractor is NEI General Contracting of Randolph.

Village at Nauset Green will feature 18 three-story wood-framed buildings surrounding two common green spaces, a pocket park, a community building and garden, playground, walking path and on-site management office. The project’s architect is The Architectural Team of Chelsea, and the general contractor is NEI General Contracting of Randolph.

The project is funded through $12.7 million in equity financing through a combination of federal and state low-income tax credits, $8.3 million in construction financing through Bank of America, and $4.4 million in permanent financing through the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, among other sources.

Chrystal Kornegay is executive director of MassHousing, which is helping to finance the project.

“Too many working families on Cape Cod struggle with high housing costs, and MassHousing is committed to helping families achieve prosperity by overcoming housing affordability challenges,” said Chrystal Kornegay, executive director of MassHousing, which is also providing $1.5 million through a workforce housing initiative. “In partnership with the Town of Eastham, Pennrose, and our public and private financing partners, we are transforming a vacant lot into a dynamic new housing community and helping ensure that the Outer Cape remains a great place to live, work, and raise a family.”

The state’s $100 million workforce housing initiative aims to create up to 1,000 units of workforce housing affordable to middle-income households. Since the initiative’s launch in 2016, MassHousing has committed or closed $66 million worth of workforce housing financing, reaching 29 projects in 16 cities and towns.

 

Eastham affordable housing project set to begin

Eastham affordable housing project set to begin

https://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20181203/eastham-affordable-housing-project-set-to-begin

December 3, 2018

NORTH EASTHAM — Construction work on The Village at Nauset Green housing project will begin Dec. 7 with a groundbreaking at the project’s location off Brackett Road.

The 65-unit rental complex, to be built with state and town funding, is meant to help reduce the dearth of rentals, and medium-priced housing generally, in the eastern towns of Cape Cod. Much of Eastham’s housing inventory is single-family detached houses, with prices pushed upward by a strong demand for seasonal, second-home owners and retirees.

The $23 million construction project, which has been known informally as the Campbell-Purcell housing development, will be a set of townhouses with four units per building.

Late in 2017, the state announced the housing development would receive $10 million over 10 years in federal low-income housing tax credits and $875,000 from the state for five years, according to Charlie Adams, vice president of the New England region for Pennrose Properties, which is developing The Village at Nauset Green.

Eastham voters approved $750,000 in Community Preservation Act money for the development. Because the project is considered a regional effort, town meetings in Wellfleet and Orleans each contributed $100,000 in preservation act money as well, Eastham Town Planner Paul Lagg said.

 

Wellfleet lags in promoting accessory dwelling units

Wellfleet lags in promoting accessory dwelling units

http://wellfleet.wickedlocal.com/news/20181129/wellfleet-lags-in-promoting-accessory-dwelling-units

November 29, 2018

WELLFLEET— Local experts say the easiest way to increase the amount of affordable year-round housing is for towns to loosen restrictions on accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Provincetown and Truro have done just that in the last two years. But Wellfleet has not — yet.

The Cape Cod Commission, the Housing Assistance Corporation, and the Smarter Cape Partnership, a coalition working to increase year-round housing, all recommend simplifying the rules governing ADUs.

“This bylaw change will add to the supply of market-rate housing, without costing taxpayer dollars, changing community character, damaging the environment, or eating up open space,” according to the Housing Assistance Corporation’s report “Housing on Cape Cod: The High Cost of Doing Nothing,” which was released last month.

Every town on Cape Cod has a bylaw allowing for accessory units, which can be either attached to the primary residence or stand as separate structures on the same lot, as long as the total number of bedrooms doesn’t exceed the Title 5 septic limits. Most of these bylaws, however, come with onerous restrictions that intimidate home owners, said Stefanie Coxe, a consultant and co-author of the HAC study.

So a model bylaw developed by the Cape Cod Commission is designed to remove the biggest hurdles. The commission recommends eliminating income requirements, which dictate that the units must be rented only to those meeting state income limits and thus qualifying for low-income housing. Most working people earn too much and are excluded from participation — even though they can’t afford to buy a house on the Outer Cape.

In the last two years, Provincetown and Truro voters adopted versions of the commission’s model bylaw, including getting rid of the income limit.

But Wellfleet’s planning board has resisted the change. Gerald Parent, the planning board chair, said lifting the income limit could pave the way for the ADUs to be rented out to vacationers, thwarting the purpose for allowing the units in the first place.

Truro’s and Provincetown’s bylaws both require that ADUs be rented year-round. In Truro, the bylaw requires that a lease and a signed affidavit be submitted annually to the building commissioner to ensure year-round occupancy. In Provincetown, the year-round requirement is written into the deed; violations would be enforced through civil court action, said Provincetown planner Jeffrey Ribeiro.

Parent said he’s skeptical that a year-round rental stipulation would be enforced, particularly in homes far from neighbors.

“Who monitors that?” Parent asked.

This year the Wellfleet Planning Board proposed other zoning bylaw amendments to encourage affordable housing, including one that gives a density bonus to developers who construct affordable units mixed in with market-rate properties. The measures were approved at town meeting.

Now, Parent said, the board will “slowly” look again at the accessory dwelling bylaw. Progress may indeed be slow because the board currently has three vacancies. It’s supposed to have seven members but has only four.

“I’m at the point where I’m having trouble operating,” Parent said.

Elaine McIlroy, chair of the Wellfleet Housing Authority, said her group agrees with removing the income requirement. But the housing authority does not want to be the ones to sponsor the change, because it would not specifically help low- or moderate-income residents.

“We would support it, if another board brought it forward with a year-round restriction,” she said.

The current Wellfleet ADU bylaw provides a tax break for the home owner. The value of the accessory dwelling is exempted from the tax assessment to encourage development of the units, McIlroy said. She suggested that a new provision based on the Cape Cod Commission model could be added to the town’s bylaws rather than replacing the current provisions — so they could both be offered.

A change in the ADU bylaw could still happen in time for the 2019 annual town meeting, said Joseph Powers, who is Wellfleet’s assistant town administrator and town clerk.

“It’s on my radar,” he said.

Wellfleet’s accessory dwelling program was promoted by the late Rex Peterson when he was the assistant town administrator; Wellfleet currently has 10 to 15 units that are rented out as accessory dwellings, but Powers said the bylaw is underused.

“The program is not anywhere near where it should be,” Powers said. “It will be my role to update the planning board. I understand their skittishness. The challenge is balancing their concerns with more opportunities.”