PROVINCETOWN — For years now, Provincetown has planned to build housing at the site of the old police station at 26 Shank Painter Road. A vision of 24 studio and one-bedroom units in 2019 was expanded to 36 apartments following a town meeting vote last year that permitted four-story housing projects on Shank Painter.
On March 13, however, the select board discussed taking the project in a new direction by seeking a developer who would build only market-rate and middle-income rentals at the site.
Middle-income housing has been the “white whale” of the Outer Cape’s housing crisis. It is often discussed but is very difficult to create for the simple reason that nearly all the state and federal subsidies for housing are only for lower-income households.
State and federal housing funds target people earning less than 80 percent of the Area Median Income — a federally defined number that for Barnstable County in 2022 was $60,900 for a single person and $69,600 for a couple.
That means that two people both earning $40,000 per year make too much to qualify for almost all the affordable rentals that have been built here. Firefighters, police officers, teachers, and health-care workers are just a few of the middle-income professionals who can’t live in affordable rentals.
The Community Builders, the nonprofit developer that is building 65 apartments at the former VFW site on 3 Jerome Smith Road in Provincetown, attempted to include 16 apartments for middle-income earners in that project but ultimately had to strip that income bracket from its plans in January due to complex federal funding rules.
Now, at the 26 Shank Painter site, the town is looking for something completely different: a plan that isn’t built on state and federal money at all. The select board authorized a formal request for proposals last week that asks developers for plans for middle-income or market-rate rental housing only — possibly with some ownership units — but with no units at all below the 80-percent-of-AMI threshold.
“The town prefers as many unrestricted market‐rate units as possible, although the town would consider a number of restricted units as long as the AMI range does not fall below 80%,” town staff wrote in the RFP.
“For example, there could be a scenario that includes a number of units between 80%‐120% AMI, with the others unrestricted or up to 200% AMI.”
The 120-percent Area Median Income threshold was $91,320 for one person or $104,400 for two people in 2022. At 200 percent of AMI, a two-earner household could make $174,000 in combined income and still qualify.
The RFP also says that the development team must include a qualified property management firm with on-site management and 24-hour emergency maintenance service.
“I think this is worded in a way to attract smaller developers, more regional people,” Town Manager Alex Morse told the board. “I think it will be useful to see what we get back — if we get options at all — and to see if they’re what the town wants.”
The 65 apartments at 3 Jerome Smith are currently projected to cost $37.8 million, with only $3 million of that coming from Provincetown’s municipal funds. Morse described the RFP as “a good first step” to see who might want to build market-rate housing without major financing from the state, and how they would plan to do it.
The Methodist Church
The board also discussed whether it might be possible to expand the project further by making a deal with the Provincetown United Methodist Church, which sits on almost an acre adjacent to the old police station site.
The one-story annex that hosts the Soup Kitchen in Provincetown (SKIP), the Provincetown Food Bank, a Homeless Prevention Council office, and a thrift store could perhaps be torn down and rebuilt in a joint project, Morse said, with newer facilities for those groups on the ground floor and apartments above.
“I can’t say too much publicly, but we had an initial meeting with the church to talk about our plans on Shank Painter and to talk about their space needs,” Morse said. “SKIP is in need of more space; the church itself is in need of more space.”
The sanctuary would need to be preserved, Morse said, but it sits on the other side of the property. The church probably can’t sell land, Morse added, so some kind of long-term lease would be required.
The conversations were not sufficiently advanced to put the annex building into the RFP document, Morse added, but “we are having those conversations.”
“Most developers prefer to do larger projects rather than smaller,” said select board member Louise Venden. “We found that out at the VFW, and we went ahead and bought the parcel next door. This is a large parcel,” she said, referring to the church property.
The old police station sits on four-tenths of an acre and technically includes two addresses: 26 Shank Painter Road and 15 Browne St. The Methodist Church sits on just under nine-tenths of an acre.
Venden also said that the town could pursue private donors for such a project.
“There are people with a lot of money who are very supportive of SKIP, supportive of what the Methodist Church has done, and of our housing efforts,” Venden said. “I think it’s time to go after some of that private wealth here, and this is the way to start.”
The board voted unanimously to approve the RFP for the old police station site.
In a few months, when the responses are due, Provincetown may learn something new about its old white-whale, market-rate rental housing: who, if anyone, wants to build it.