Our View: It’s Not Enough To Just Create More Housing Units

by The Cape Cod Chronicle

We’re generally not in favor of towns hiring consultants to tell them what everyone in town already knows. But in Chatham’s case, the experts updating the town’s housing production plan are already uncovering some interesting insights.

Providing the affordable housing trust with a sneak preview of some of its findings, consultants from J.M. Goldson last week observed that just under 800 Chatham residents are aged 65 and older, a number that grew by about 33 percent in the last five years. Most live in single-family homes, and many would prefer to move into a smaller place if they could do so and stay in town. But because there are very few available one- or two-bedroom year-round apartments, they have to choose between rattling around in a too-large house or moving elsewhere to find housing.

It also seems that of the houses which were available, more are being occupied year-round by people who are telecommuting, a phenomenon that first ramped up during the pandemic. Interestingly, there was also an increase in the number of residents between ages 18 and 24, which jumped more than 45 percent since 2017.

There’s clearly a need for more year-round rental housing in town, both subsidized and market rate. People working in all industries on the Cape, but particularly the service industries, aren’t able to earn enough money to pay their housing costs. That points out the need for workforce housing, not just subsidized units for those who earn less than the area median income.

Meanwhile, median home values have jumped nearly 30 percent in the five years ending in 2022 — and that doesn’t count increases since that time.

Yes, the housing production plan is going to highlight the obvious: Chatham needs to develop more affordable housing. Currently, only about 4.8 percent of the town’s housing stock is subsidized, well under the 10 percent minimum threshold the state recommends. But the plan will also shed important light on what types of new housing would be most beneficial, and possibly even which parts of town need them the most.

These issues are not unique to Chatham; we would expect to see similar results in Harwich, Orleans and Brewster. Those towns are also assessing their housing needs. It seems to us there’s an opportunity there for a regional approach, or at least coordination, and we’d recommend that the four towns start talking to each other with this in mind, for the benefit of all residents.

Meanwhile, we urge Chatham residents and property owners to add their voices to the discussion by completing the online survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/ChathamHPP.