Consultants Begin To Quantify Housing Need

by Alan Pollock

CHATHAM – Though they haven’t made any surprise findings, consultants working on an update of Chatham’s Housing Production Plan are beginning to quantify some of the town’s specific housing needs.

“There’s a lot of single-family homes and things which are more naturally unaffordable,” consultant Laura Smead told the affordable housing trust last week. Smead and her colleagues from J.M. Goldson hope to have a final draft of the housing plan by July. They are currently carrying out a needs assessment with some community engagement efforts, developing goals and strategies later this spring. “It’s not going to be a magic wand,” Smead said of the plan, but it can be a useful tool for identifying the best housing types and locations.

The study included a review of the town’s demographics, and showed that the town’s total population has grown about 7.5 percent over the last decade. Since 2017, the number of residents 65 and older grew by 33 percent.

“The senior population has grown significantly in town, something that we noticed over and over again in the data,” consultant Noah Harper said. The town’s population is also growing more wealthy and better educated. The number of Chatham residents who commute out of town to work has declined, he added.

“I think that this signals an increase in telework, but the commute time has interestingly gone up a little bit,” Harper said. It might be a sign that some people who work remotely from Chatham commute to Boston one or two days each week, he said. Wages, particularly in the accommodations and food service industries, are not keeping pace with the cost of housing. “It just doesn’t stack up. We all know that can be an issue,” he said.

“We talk a lot about housing for our town employees, our police, our fire, our school teachers,” Trustee Michael Schell said. “How far are they coming to work here? That’s critical to assessing what our needs are,” he said.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of homeowners who are “cost-burdened,” meaning that they spend 30 percent or more of their household income on housing costs. There were fewer than 600 such people in Chatham in 2017, and nearly 1,000 in 2022, the most recent year with available data. The number of cost-burdened renters is lower, but that’s not necessarily good news.

“The problem is, there’s really really scarce rental stock in the community,” Harper said. “So if you manage to snag a unit, you’re doing OK. But there really just aren’t that many options for renters.”

There is a strong housing need identified for senior homeowners looking to downsize and stay in the community. “You have to go somewhere else because there’s a wait list or there’s nothing available,” he said. “Because we only built one type of housing for like 60 or 70 years and we’re kind of stuck with that. We have to figure out how to get out of that hole.”

“The high cost of living is impacting the ability also of local businesses to staff their businesses with people who can work at these locations, and their ability to find housing that’s close to where they work,” Smead said. Chatham suffers from a lack of diversity in its housing stock, she said. “We need homes for folks who are downsizing. We need homes for folks who have larger and smaller families.”

Chatham is also experiencing the “mansion-ization” of lots, where smaller homes are torn down to make room for bigger, less affordable houses, Smead added. “That is something that’s happening not only in Chatham but in other places as well,” she said.

Resident Rick Leavitt said the housing assessment must take into account the need for workforce housing, occupied by people who earn up to twice the area median income, and thus do not qualify for most subsidized housing programs.

“Any housing production plan for Chatham must include a broad-based assessment and not be limited to households just earning below AMI, although that’s very important,” he said. A specific survey of town employees is “essential to be able to quantify the magnitude of Chatham’s housing shortage,” Leavitt added.

The consultants are circulating an online survey to get public opinion on the town’s housing needs; it is available at The survey is available through April 14.

This article has been changed to correct an error.