PROVINCETOWN — Some extra money will be coming to Barnstable County from the American Rescue Plan Act to help people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The $1,556,508 in federal funding is, however, no match for the need.
More than 10,000 households here meet the government’s definition of “extremely low income,” and advocates say that Cape Cod has essentially no rental housing available.
County leaders are working on a plan to spend the money according to federal guidelines while acknowledging that many more people need help than they are likely to be able to reach.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a $1.9-trillion bill signed by President Biden early in 2021, directed huge amounts of money to state and local governments throughout the country, including $8.7 billion to Massachusetts, of which $41 million came to Barnstable County. Separate from that was a $5-billion allocation to the federal HOME program, which is the government’s largest low-income housing program, supervised by the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.
The latter $5 billion was split among the 651 jurisdictions nationwide that administer HOME funding, which resulted in the $1,556,508 that Barnstable County will receive next year.
Before that money can be released to the county, there is a mandatory public process: community engagement sessions, a needs assessment and gap analysis, a draft plan, a public hearing, and, finally, approval of the spending plan from the federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. After multiple community engagement sessions this fall, the county and its outside consultants are nearly done with the draft plan, according to Renie Hammon, Barnstable County’s HOME program manager, with the public hearing likely to be held in late January.
One complication is that there are many ways the money can be spent, and the draft plan tries to weigh the relative merits of all of them. Among the possible uses of the $1.5 million are the production of affordable rental housing, the provision of rental vouchers directly to tenants, funding for homelessness prevention services, and the development of new shelters.
In addition to people who are currently homeless, the money may also benefit people who are deemed to be at risk of homelessness and people fleeing domestic violence. The “at risk” category is expansive — it includes anyone who makes less than half the area median income and lives in a motel, for example.
As the Independent has reported, there are many people living in motels and campgrounds on the Outer Cape, including at the Truro Motor Inn, which is owned by David and Carolyn Delgizzi of Weston, who are embroiled in court proceedings over the substandard condition of the apartments and the property’s cesspools.
People who work on homelessness and housing insecurity say that financial support for their clients would be welcome. But even if a voucher for rental housing comes, there is often no landlord with a vacant unit who will take the voucher.
At a community engagement session in October, Jennifer Ferron, a community support navigator at Outer Cape Health Services who is based at Nauset Regional High School, told the county’s HOME administrators that she knew of only one motel that would accept money from an agency like hers. Ferron said she did not want to disrupt that relationship by naming the motel. But she did want to know how to get more vouchers.
The county’s official homelessness count, called a Point-in-Time or PiT count, is an annual survey of homeless and near-homeless people in a variety of settings. On the night of Feb. 22, 2022, the PiT count found five people using housing vouchers to stay at motels in Yarmouth; 10 in Hyannis; and 28 in Falmouth.
In total, the PiT count found 358 homeless people in Barnstable County, most of whom were in emergency shelters in Bourne, Falmouth, and Hyannis. There were also 13 people in domestic violence shelters and 24 who were unsheltered.
The PiT count almost certainly understates the homeless and at-risk populations, according to Alexis Lanzilotta, a project manager at Barrett Planning Group, a consulting firm that works with local governments and is running the county’s community outreach efforts. It does not include any of the people who live in motels without a voucher, for instance. A separate search effort organized by the Dept. of Education found 339 homeless students attending public schools in Barnstable County, Lanzilotta said — another indication that the need is greater than the PiT count indicates.
Jay Coburn, CEO of the Community Development Partnership, which is both an advocate for and developer of affordable housing on the Lower Cape, told the group that all $1.5 million of the county’s extra HOME allocation should go toward the various permanent affordable housing projects that are currently underway on Cape Cod. His reasoning as to why this is urgent: “There are several projects in the pipeline that are facing critical gaps due to the increased costs of construction.”
The CDP, recently moved from Eastham to Orleans, is one of the lead developers of the 95 Lawrence Road affordable housing project in Wellfleet, which will include 46 units and had an initial cost estimate of $20.2 million.
The Community Builders, who are developing 65 units of affordable housing in Provincetown, recently raised their cost estimate for that project from $22 million to $38 million, partly due to increased construction costs.
“There are lots of different things that can be done with the ARPA funds that are interesting and needed,” Coburn said, “but I think the most strategic thing is to fund new units of housing.”
Hammon said the county’s draft plan to spend the $1.5 million should be ready by the end of the year, with a public comment period and a public meeting to follow. A finalized allocation plan is due to the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development by the end of March.