Introducing Housing to Protect Cape Cod

With Cape Cod experiencing an unprecedented crisis in housing, local leaders are looking for new approaches.

“We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results,” said Alisa Magnotta, Housing Assistance chief executive officer.

That’s why Housing Assistance Corporation is launching the Housing to Protect Cape Cod (HPCC) initiative in partnership with the Cape Cod and Islands Association of REALTORS®, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, CapeBuilt Companies, and the Homebuilders and Remodelers of Cape Cod.

“Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring everyone together,” said Magnotta.

The HPCC coalition is a community organizing initiative that mobilizes residents in support of policies that foster year-round housing while protecting our critical environmental resources and community character.

“A lot of people have talked about these issues,” said Paul Niedzwiecki, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “There’s been a lot of conferences. There’s been a lot of planning, but what we need is action. HPCC is different and that’s why it’s going to make a difference.”

At a summit on November 3 (see popout box), the coalition will formally launch its vision for solving the Cape’s housing crisis.

“We need residents, employees, and employers to amplify our message and advocate for solutions,” said Magnotta. “Our aim is to protect the Cape we love – for generations to come.”

To that end, a key component of the Coalition’s strategy is approaching housing in a manner that protects and preserves the environment, particularly the wastewater crisis.

Niedzwiecki served for 10 years as the executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, where protecting the Cape’s water quality was one of his priorities.

Can we solve the housing crisis without ruining the environment?

“We absolutely can,” he said. “The single greatest threat to water quality on the Cape has been the ever-expanding footprint of single-family homes. What we need is a diversity in housing typology. We need more smaller units, multi-family units, apartment complexes, year-round rentals. Those are the things that we need in order to support the middle class, support the seasonal workers who come, support police officers and firefighters and teachers.”

Magnotta agrees. “The policies of the last several decades have gotten us McMansions, sprawl, decimated forests that could have been preserved for open space. And a wastewater problem that’s more expensive to fix because we insist on only single-family homes far away from one another.”

Can we solve the housing crisis without changing community character?

Castle says legalizing forms of housing other than just single-family homes is actually a return to Cape Cod’s roots. “The prettiest parts of Cape Cod are illegal to build under today’s zoning. Drive down Route 6A or through downtown Chatham. Those charming multi-family homes, dense village centers with top-of-the-shop apartments? They’ve been illegal to build for decades.

“If we want more of the things we like, we need to make it legal to build them. That’s basic and the foundation of our approach.”

The HPCC partners

The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce’s number one policy goal is addressing housing. “The core reason for assembling this group of organizations is to act so that we can preserve the Cape and everything that makes the Cape unique, preserve its economic vitality and preserve the middle class,” said Niedzwiecki. “We need to keep this special place special.”

“All these organizations look at housing through different lenses, so I think it says something that we’re all coming together,” said Chris Flanagan, executive officer of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod. “We all recognize that there is a housing crisis and that there is a critical need for people to be able to live here and work here. Pre-pandemic and throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen a huge shortage of workforce and a huge increase in housing prices, and the issue has only gotten worse. We’re recognizing that we need to do something about it.”

Ryan Castle, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod & Islands Association of REALTORS, said the time has come to get serious about housing and housing affordability.

“The housing strategy over the last 20 to 30 years created a wide gulf for middle income housing. We have a zoning policy that encourages large lots and more expensive homes, and we have a housing affordability strategy that focuses exclusively on the most in need. We need both a ‘capital a’ strategy and a strategy for the missing middle.”

“The future of a vibrant, viable Cape depends on supply housing opportunities across an entire spectrum of forms and markets and incomes,” said Rob Brennan, president, CapeBuilt Development. “We need housing for the women and men and families who are the soul, who are the engine and who are the creative class that makes Cape Cod such an attractive and inviting home and destination.

“We’re strong believers in everyone’s right to secure housing and also the importance of that for the economic and social vitality of the Cape as a region.”

Business owners are speaking up for housing

Long-time supporters of Housing Assistance, Cape Cod Beer hosted a housing happy hour and Advocacy 101 training in September. (Another Advocacy 101 training will be offered after the Housing to Protect Cape Cod Summit on November 3.)

“You can’t just stand around and complain that there’s no place for people to live,” said Beth Marcus, co-founder and business manager of Cape Cod Beer. “You have to get involved. You’re either part of this problem or you’re part of the solution.”

Beth Markus, co-founder and business manager of Cape Cod Beer

Marcus attended a housing advocacy class a few years ago and has gone to several town hearings and written letters to town councilors in support of housing.

“Until you start to understand what the problems are, you can’t actually talk to people about it, so I wanted to get educated,” she said. “We need more people who can be advocates and convince people to have less of the NIMBY attitude about housing. So, we’re more than happy to provide space and encourage people to attend.”

Ken Taber, president and CEO of Hole in One, Inc., encouraged several of his younger employees to become housing advocates.

“I mentioned it to one of them and he was all over the idea,” said Taber. “He said, ‘All my friends are talking about the same thing. How can we live on Cape Cod? We love Cape Cod. We want to work here. We want to live here. How is it going to work?’ He wants to become more educated about housing and share information with his friends.”

–Ken Taber, president and CEO of Hole in One, Inc.

Ken Taber, president and CEO of Hole in One, Inc.

Dave and Kristen Roberts, owners of Truro Vineyards

Kristen Roberts of Truro Vineyards encourages people to get involved in town government at whatever level they can.

“There are positions you can run for and ad hoc committees that are less time consuming. There’s lots of ways where people could and should get involved, even if it’s showing up at town meeting twice a year. But absolutely, housing advocacy has to be at the top of everyone’s list.”

-Kristen Roberts, owner of Truro Vineyards

Getting involved

The thrust of HPCC is that local action is the answer. “Most housing decisions are made at the local town level, which means each of us can make a difference just by civically engaging,” said Stefanie Coxe, chief external affairs officer for Housing Assistance.

To get involved, she recommends you start by going to housingtoprotectcapecod.org and taking the following steps.

  • Sign the HPCC petition, to let local leaders know that increasing workforce housing is important in your town. Once you do so you’ll become informed and receive resources about how and when to speak up for housing.
  • Spread the word by sharing the Housing to Protect Cape Cod petition on social media and talking to neighbors about the importance of increasing workforce housing on Cape Cod.

Coxe emphasized that advocates do not have to become public policy experts or know an issue inside and out. “You just need to tell your housing story to decision-makers.”

Personal stories can be very powerful at public hearings, agreed Brennan. “I think that one of the greatest services HPCC can do is to personalize the face of housing need on Cape Cod,” he said.

“I think so often there is a fear when we talk about housing production of folks not knowing who is going to be living in this housing that is being talked about. The truth is that people who own their primary and secondary homes on the Cape already know who needs the housing because it’s the workers that they interact with on a daily or regular basis. The people who turn out for town meetings ought to be there to advocate for housing opportunities, for the people that they depend on.”

Flanagan said the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod encourages its members to speak at town meetings and planning board meetings.

“What’s interesting about it is that NIMBY-ism tends to be very well organized, so people tend to put not only bodies in seats who will speak out against something, but also some will put funds toward legal action to stop a project,” he said. “Housing to Protect Cape Cod allows us as a community to become more organized around issues that we can get behind, and to be proactive in terms of creating more housing that’s affordable, both capital A and lowercase a affordable.”

Karolyn McClelland lives in the first house Habitat for Humanity built in Chatham. A single mother of two, she was grateful to have a permanent place for her family – and she decided the best way to show her gratitude was to help others have a chance at an affordable home.

“Our biggest adversary to being successful with housing is apathy.”

–Karolyn McClelland

Karolyn McClelland

For a time, she juggled several jobs and worked seven days a week. When her children were grown, she had time to learn more about local housing issues and became a Habitat volunteer and housing advocate.

“It’s really important to bring people together and have creative conversations and let people know that this is a problem that can be solved,” she said.

“Our biggest adversary to being successful with housing is apathy. I could go door to door with a clipboard and probably get a super majority of support for any housing initiative. They’d say, ‘yes, I support that.’ Are they going to come to town meetings? No. If you’re someone who stands there and says, ‘I’m for this,’ but you don’t show up at town meetings, then you’re the problem. Your no show is a vote against.”

McClelland said the Cape’s housing crisis is “everybody’s problem. Whether it’s the people you hire, your coworkers or your friends, everybody knows somebody in this situation.”

Today, McClelland serves as chair of the Chatham Community Housing Partnership. She has used her voice to propose affordable housing warrants at Chatham town meeting and was a vocal supporter of the passage of a better accessory dwelling unit (ADU) bylaw.

Marstons Mills resident Meaghan Mort said she got started with housing advocacy “out of sheer frustration with the lack of affordable or attainable housing.

“The most effective way for people to help make change is to speak up and share their stories. It makes a huge impact.”

–Meghan Mort

Meghan Mort and family

“A big push was reading and hearing all of the comments against literally every housing project, big or small, that was proposed on Cape Cod. Reading the Letters to the Editor in the Cape Cod Times really ground my gears, so I started speaking at town council for housing and on behalf of hard-working people who were being brushed aside. All I did, to start, was tell my story.”

“The most effective way for people to help make change is to speak up and share their stories. It makes a huge impact. Too often the loudest people in the room live securely in homes they own. The more stories they hear, the harder it is to ignore us and the easier it is to get more housing projects approved and underway, whether it be two family duplexes or proposals like Twin Brooks.”

“Your voice has power.”

–Tara Vargas Wallace

“Your voice has power,” said Tara Vargas Wallace, founder and CEO of Amplify POC. “Your experiences and your input matter. Especially when you’ve been impacted by these issues, it’s really important for you to speak up.”

Tara Vargas Wallace, founder and CEO of Amplify POC

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