PROVINCETOWN — Austin Miller says he is “an incredibly details-oriented person.” He knows the name of the freshwater wellfield that Provincetown will need to expand to secure more drinking water. He knows how the town’s inclusionary zoning bylaw works.
Miller is a quick study. He moved to Provincetown with his partner three years ago at age 29. He joined both the Community Housing Council and the Year-Round Market-Rate Rental Housing Trust in 2021. That same year, Town Manager Alex Morse made him a member of the review committee that examined three bids to construct affordable housing at the VFW site, which eventually led to The Community Builders Inc. being picked to build 65 units there.
Miller grew up in Livermore, Calif., went to college at Portland State University in Oregon, and then moved to San Francisco. He graduated from college in 2011, the year after Congress passed the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law that created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Miller has since been working for banks and financial institutions as a compliance officer — that is, making sure the bureau’s rules on mortgages and credit cards are being followed by the people who write loans. He met his partner, Rafael Cruz Famania, on an assignment in Westborough in 2017, and he currently works remotely for NDP Bank in upstate New York overseeing loans for the installation of home solar panels.
Miller said that Provincetown is unusual, on Cape Cod and nationally, for having such strong agreement on the importance of housing. But, he added, the town hasn’t always been able to translate its beliefs into new policies. He wants to help get that done, he said.
“Town meeting voters are supporting almost unanimously nearly every housing proposal that comes before them,” Miller said. “We have voters who really care and are really engaged in solving our housing crisis. And I don’t think our current zoning laws reflect the values of that citizenry.
“It’s going to be an incredibly complex and difficult enterprise, but we need to go back and analyze and update those zoning laws, because that’s the only way we’re going to make housing available and affordable for our workforce,” Miller said.
He said he wants to see denser housing permitted in Provincetown’s core. The town needs to negotiate for an expanded water supply now, he said, so it won’t find itself unable to build new housing in the future. Another idea: the town may need to explore building housing that is dedicated to key personnel, such as emergency medical workers and teachers, he said.
Climate change is also important, Miller said.
“The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest-warming bodies of water in the world,” Miller said. “Planning for that future is going to be a very difficult challenge.”
The job of select board members, Miller said, is to think critically about what comes before them and ensure that the values of the town’s voters are being turned into policy.
As an example, Miller pointed to the town’s recently updated down payment assistance program.
The Community Housing Council had been giving grants of up to $10,000 for first-time homebuyers who were purchasing the town’s affordable-ownership units. Miller thought that was no longer enough.
“Ten thousand was not a meaningful enough subsidy for the people purchasing these units,” he said. “Mortgage rates are now 8 percent, you have closing costs, and you have to have a rainy-day fund.”
Miller asked if the town could offer 10 percent of a home’s purchase price instead, but town staff didn’t know if that would be legal. Miller and housing specialist Michelle Jarusiewicz consulted with state regulators and other towns, and now Provincetown offers up to 10 percent of a home’s price or $30,000, whichever is smaller.
“We were able to work together, find the answer, and implement it,” Miller said. To some people, the devil is in the details, but to Miller, that’s where the action is.