EASTHAM — Last July, the Eastham Affordable Housing Trust’s housing management contract with the nonprofit Community Development Partnership (CDP) expired, and the trust didn’t renew it. Instead, it decided to have town staff manage its seven properties alongside the six town-owned units that Eastham already managed.
Jay Coburn, CEO of the CDP, and Jacqui Beebe, Eastham’s town administrator, had different assessments of the wisdom of that change.
“Property management in general is a problem,” Coburn said. “If you mess it up, you risk losing the tax credit, and that’s a disaster.”
Town staff “were concerned there wasn’t a lot of capital improvement being done,” Beebe said. The properties required more maintenance than they were receiving, she added.
The CDP had been managing the trust’s properties since 2013. The decision not to renew the contract came after the town hired a housing coordinator, Rachel Butler, in December 2021. She was qualified to perform the same management functions that the CDP had been contracted for.
Management of affordable and income-restricted units has spurred debate on the Outer Cape before.
The question of who was responsible for checking on Wellfleet’s income-restricted accessory dwelling units flummoxed town staff last year when a year-round tenant was evicted by new owners who listed the main house as a short-term rental and took the ADU for themselves.
Wellfleet’s income-restricted ADUs had been monitored by the CDP until another contract changed; afterwards, Wellfleet’s assistant town administrator and building commissioner each said the other was in charge.
In Provincetown, the management contract for the 26 market-rate rentals at the Harbor Hill complex will soon be put out to bid again — but not before a separate request for proposals is issued to see if any property management companies want to buy the complex outright.
“We spend a lot of time talking about building affordable housing, but we don’t pay a lot of attention to the management of it,” said Kristin Hatch, executive director of the Provincetown Housing Authority. As towns create more housing, they must assess the benefits of management by nonprofits, private companies, or in-house staff, she said.
‘The Queen of Management’
Eastham’s changeover is resource-efficient and will improve the quality of the housing, according to Beebe and Eastham Affordable Housing Trust chair Carolyn McPherson.
But a CDP director said it could create more work than the town can handle.
“I generally encourage towns to not own and manage their own properties,” said Paul Ruchinskas, treasurer of CDP’s board and former affordable housing specialist at the Cape Cod Commission. “Typically, towns don’t have the capacity to do it.”
Finding property managers who can do income certification is particularly difficult, Ruchinskas said.
It’s “the toughest skill set to find,” and if there is turnover in the role, finding a replacement “will be one of the hardest challenges for the town over the long haul,” he said.
Before coming to Eastham, Butler was a property manager for 12 years at Community Housing Resource, an affordable housing developer based in Provincetown.
She was “the queen of management,” said Hatch — a “known commodity” and an asset to the region’s housing efforts.
In Eastham, Butler is currently in charge of relatively few units — six owned by the town, including two that were bought in 2022, and seven owned by the trust.
“She managed many more units than that for Community Housing Resource,” Hatch said.
Hatch is the sole property manager for the Provincetown Housing Authority (alongside a maintenance technician and an administrative assistant), which has 46 units; she also administers 26 state vouchers.
Ruchinskas acknowledged that the small number of units will make it easier for Butler to manage the properties. “The fact that it’s all located in Eastham just makes it a heck of a lot easier to deal with,” he said.
Out to Bid
Ruchinskas also said that for towns to maintain or improve their housing they must go through a procurement process outlined by Massachusetts’s Chapter 30B, which states that all town contracts must be offered for bidding by different vendors to guarantee fairness.
That process is “cumbersome,” said Coburn, and CDP already has two maintenance technicians on staff.
Larger improvement projects will be subject to 30B, Beebe agreed — though she said that would still be the case if a nonprofit were managing the units.
Any town-owned property is subject to 30B, Beebe said, since “it is still a public asset.”
Eastham also has facilities and maintenance workers in its DPW. They can supply day-to-day services, from fixing broken amenities to “something very simple, like plunging a toilet,” Butler said, and the town doesn’t have to bid out such urgent repairs.
In years to come, the larger housing projects at the T-Time, Town Center Plaza, and Council on Aging parcels will likely be managed by their developers, McPherson said.
Beyond those projects, Eastham has also endorsed a “scattered site” approach to affordable housing, seizing the opportunity to purchase individual units when they become available, Beebe said.
The scattered site approach was challenging for CDP’s technicians, who “spend 40 percent of their time driving,” according to Coburn.
Projects like the Village at Nauset Green, a 65-unit complex managed by the multi-state developer Pennrose, are easier to manage because the units are close together and nearly identical, Coburn said.
News Editor Paul Benson contributed reporting.