EASTHAM — A draft of the town’s 2021 housing production plan has identified an affordable housing shortage of 380 home ownership units and 195 rental units. The plan was presented on Monday to the select board, which unanimously endorsed it.
The numbers were calculated by comparing what the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Dept. considers affordable (not more than 30 percent of household income) to what residents are actually paying. Planners found that 31 percent of Eastham home owners and 48 percent of renters were spending unaffordable amounts on housing, based on community data collected by HUD in 2017.
For lower-income households, the situation is especially dire. Housing costs were unaffordable for 60 percent of households with income of 80 percent or less of the area median income (AMI). For a two-person household, that 80-percent number is currently $62,200.
And nearly 18 percent of all Eastham households (90 renters and 339 home owners) faced “severe cost burdens” — that is, they paid more than 50 percent of their income for housing, according to the report.
For renters, in particular, the plan identifies other worrisome trends. Between 2014 and 2019, the median income for local renters dropped by an estimated 13 percent, from $44,079 to $38,207, while for home owners median income rose from $69,048 to $76,652. Simultaneously, the number of year-round rental units fell from 338 in 2010 to 223 in 2019.
According to planners, the typical rent for a two-bedroom apartment hovers around $1,900 per month, while the median-income renter could afford to pay just $955, assuming utilities are included.
The housing plan also notes that, as of 2019, the vacancy rate among existing rental units had fallen to zero. The Village at Nauset Green, a subsidized affordable housing complex that opened in 2020 with 65 rental units, currently has 150 households on its waiting list.
As of December 2020, Eastham had 119 units that counted towards the town’s subsidized housing inventory (SHI), representing 4.6 percent of the town’s year-round housing — well below the 10-percent goal set by the Mass. Dept. of Housing and Community Development. But Eastham’s numbers have improved since 2015, when only 1.9 percent of its housing qualified as SHI.
Eastham’s 4.6 percent falls in the middle of nearby towns’ performance in providing affordable housing. The numbers are 2.5 percent and 2.3 percent in Wellfleet and Truro, respectively. But in Orleans it’s 9 percent, and Provincetown is just under 10 percent.
To address the glaring need for affordable options, the town’s draft housing plan outlines five-year production goals, which would create 87 new SHI-eligible year-round units by the end of 2026. Included in this figure are both ownership and rental units, with most targeting small families, seniors, people with special needs, and other one-person households.
In addition to the SHI-eligible units, the plan sets goals for producing “lower-case a” affordable housing that is not counted by the state but would still meet an immediate need in the community.
“Even if we reach the SHI goal [of 10 percent], we’re still not close to meeting the need of the town,” said Carolyn McPherson, chair of the Eastham Affordable Housing Trust, at a combined meeting of the select board and the trust on Monday. In total, the five-year plan includes 242 “lower-case a” affordable units for those making 80 to 150 percent of AMI.
Town Planner Paul Lagg told the Independent that, because many of the figures used in the plan are shifting (e.g., the number of year-round units and new census data), the goals in the housing plan are “moving targets.” The plan, with the select board’s approval, will next be sent to the state for final approval.
To meet its production goals for year-round affordable units, the town will likely need to use undeveloped parcels of public land. The largest one mentioned in the plan is a 22-acre lot on Ballwic Road that was acquired for an elementary school that was never built. “Top-of-shop,” senior, and “workforce” housing are listed as potential uses for Town Center Plaza, which the town purchased in June.
As for the 11-acre T-Time property, which the town acquired in 2019, the plan lists the possibility of “limited senior and workforce/community housing.” In addition to the three large parcels, the plan mentions the potential use of “additional scattered lots” belonging to the town.
The plan notes that at least half of all units created on public land “should be affordable” to households earning 80 percent or less of AMI. Rental projects will additionally target households earning 60 percent or less and potentially lower-income tiers as well, according to the plan. At the 80 percent of AMI threshold, roughly 1,100 Eastham households would be income-eligible for subsidized housing before taking financial assets into consideration, the plan states.
Not Much Land
One constraint on Eastham’s ability to produce new housing is the diminishing availability of undeveloped land. According to the housing plan, in 2008 only 293 acres were available for residential development. That number has surely decreased in the 13 years since. From 2008 to 2020, the plan shows, 183 building permits were issued, not including the 65 units at Nauset Green.
Records in the housing plan also show that, over the last two decades, virtually all new development has served the seasonal and second-home market. From 2000 to 2019, the number of year-round occupied units remained the same: 2,396. Over that same span, however, the number of seasonal units rose by nearly 1,000.
One option not requiring new development is the conversion of old motels and cottage colonies into year-round housing. The plan recommends that town officials work with developers to explore such conversions. While town zoning bylaws currently do not allow them, other Cape communities have, including Dennis, Sandwich, and Yarmouth. If Eastham follows suit, the Atlantic Breeze Motel, which has not been in operation since 2012, would be a prime candidate for conversion. In a recent report in the Independent, owner Bruce MacGregor said he was interested in building “workforce housing” on the site of the former 16-unit motel.
For households in Eastham making 60 percent or less of AMI and having trouble making rent, the Affordable Housing Trust offers a rental assistance program providing $350 per month for three years. The program has 11 households currently enrolled, but has budgeted for 20. For home owners, the AHT has a loan program for emergency home repairs for those making 80 percent or less of AMI. Of the $150,000 allocated for that program, $106,000 remains available, with a maximum loan amount of $20,000.