Cape Cod affordable housing advocates: Community engagement is key

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ORLEANS – A housing conference in Orleans on February 2 brought together members of several city councils and committees to discuss not only the challenges of creating affordable housing, but the opportunities.

All indications are that housing problems are worsening, and not just for those working in the service industries. Professionals, city employees, police officers, teachers—even city officials—are feeling the need.

Wellfleet Select board member Janet Reinhart said her board decided to offer more money to candidates running for the best job in town as they began their second search for a city manager in two years.

And Orleans Police Chief Scott MacDonald said the housing issues raise other significant concerns. Open patrol posts used to attract 60 to 70 applicants, he said. The last opening drew only eight.

“We have problems retaining talent,” he said. “We lost officers because they couldn’t afford to live here. It’s a bad investment when it costs $60,000 to train a new officer and the officer leaves.”

Barriers to affordable housing in the Cape

Creating affordable housing can take a long time, on average between three and five years.

“It takes a lot of time, expertise and money,” said Andrea Aldana, Community Development Partnership’s director of housing advocacy. “Funding is a mystery. Partnering with developers is crucial.”

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Aldana presented a short slideshow of the research the Affordable Housing Partnership had conducted. Marsha Allgeier, Orleans Affordable Housing Coordinator, also spoke about the city’s efforts to build affordable housing, creating a variety of projects and adopting a variety of strategies to advance future efforts.

While cities play an ongoing role in affordable housing, developers are the experts when it comes to finding money to build, Aldana said. Tax credits, bonds, Community Preservation Act funds and local funds are needed, especially to leverage state and federal funds.

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Unfortunately, Aldana said, there’s little funding for those earning 80% to 120% of the AMI. And there are more and more earners in the Cape who need housing.

“We know how to pull that off,” Aldana said. “Don’t underestimate the social commitment.”

Affordable housing considerations for the chap

Density, design, environmental protection and economy must be part of the collective conversation. A density of at least 40 units appears to be the tipping point. That’s the number developers find profitable, cost-effective, and on-site property management.

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And high-density development can be better for the environment, especially on a peninsula where a monoculture of single-family homes, each with its own sewage treatment plant, is the norm.

Aldana commended Orleans for addressing the need for village development. It is ahead of many other Cape Towns in having an infrastructure that supports affordable housing. Sewerage and sewage treatment plants will soon be operational. The city’s zoning statute legally allows ADUs, and officials are currently considering an amendment to the statute that would make it easier to build dormitories for seasonal workers.

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But she urged city officials not to rule out regional cooperation in the future.

“There is value in supporting housing in other cities and sharing CPC funds across city lines,” she said.

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Contact Denise Coffey at [email protected]

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