PROVINCETOWN — Spending bills being finalized in Boston this week will allocate $2.4 billion in federal relief money from the American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress passed in March, and another $1.4 billion in state tax revenues that came in over projections in an unexpectedly good fiscal year, to meet a wide range of needs.
A look at the earmarks — amendments that individual legislators have attached to the bills — shows that state Sen. Julian Cyr and Rep. Sarah Peake are looking to focus the region’s windfall on the housing crisis.
“We know there’s going to be a lot of money coming through all these other affordable housing programs” in the larger bill, said Cyr. “We are trying to focus on some newer ideas, test them out, and jump-start some other ways to get housing production.”
The Mass. House and Senate were expected to reconcile their separate spending bills into one package by Wednesday. The two versions mostly fund the same priorities, but at different amounts, so the reconciliation seeks to settle on final numbers for each section.
The legislation will include a wide range of provisions, including hundreds of millions of dollars for frontline workers, the unemployment trust fund, health care systems, and affordable housing.
Legislators’ earmarks are not likely to change much during these negotiations. They represent a very small percentage of the total funding — in the House bill, they were around 4 percent — but they are a big way legislators can bring dollars home for specific local priorities.
The seven housing earmarks Cyr and Peake are supporting could bring a total of $4.5 million to Cape Cod.
Peake, who lives in Provincetown and is a former select board member, included a $1 million earmark for the Homeless Prevention Council (HPC) and the Community Development Partnership (CDP) to set up a Lower and Outer Cape ADU and housing resource center. ADUs are accessory dwelling units, sometimes called mother-in-law apartments or backyard cottages. Housing advocates have pushed for them as a way to create small, reasonably priced apartments for renters and also help home owners generate extra income.
“It’s great that all the towns have made major reforms to their ADU bylaws,” said Jay Coburn, CEO of the CDP. “They don’t have to be purely affordable — they can charge market-rate rents. They just have to be rented year-round.
“The problem remains, a typical home owner is not a real estate developer,” Coburn continued. “Our plan is to offer support and technical assistance throughout the process of creating those units.”
Very few people have built ADUs, even though bylaws allowing them have existed for a while. Coburn thinks the problem is not a lack of interest, but rather that the process is technical and time-consuming. Home owners could use help with every step, he said, including site plans, architecture, regulatory boards, financing, and tenant selection.
Peake’s amendment also allows some of the money to be used for forgivable loans and grants to home owners who want to build ADUs.
“We’re still trying to figure out how we would structure that,” said Coburn. “If you’re going to use public money, would you potentially make that available only to low- or moderate-income home owners? What mechanism would you put in place to ensure the long-term availability of that unit?”
When there’s equity in a house, a home equity loan is an easy way to finance an ADU, Coburn said. Market-rate rents mean an ADU can pay for itself.
“Our preference is to leverage as much private-sector investment as possible,” said Coburn. “What we hear from property owners is they just don’t know where to begin the process.” That’s why he and Hadley Luddy of the HPC approached Peake about funding a resource center, said Coburn.
Two Cape Senators
Sen. Julian Cyr, who lives in Truro, and Sen. Susan Moran of Falmouth collaborated on $3.5 million worth of earmarks for housing initiatives on Cape Cod, according to their joint press release.
Moran’s amendments direct $2 million to the Housing Assistance Corporation of Cape Cod, which is headquartered in Hyannis, to help finish two affordable housing projects, one in Bourne and one in Orleans.
Cyr directed a $500,000 earmark to a forgivable loan program for the construction of ADUs. That program will be administered by the Housing Assistance Corporation. The goal is a program that specifically lends for ADU construction, said Cyr, with zero-interest loans, and technical assistance with designs and contractors also included.
Cyr also wants to direct $500,000 to a rental subsidy program for early childhood educators and people who work with the developmentally disabled. Participants in the program could receive up to $400 a month in rent subsidies for one year.
“We know these people are pretty darn underpaid,” said Cyr. “A lot of them are paid rates that are set by the state, that haven’t increased.”
The State House News Service recently reported on this pay gap. The state pays nonprofit providers of care at much lower rates than it pays its own employees in similar positions. Legislation has been introduced to close that gap, but it is not included in either chamber’s spending bill.
Another $250,000 earmark from Cyr will fund a project at the Cape Cod Commission to identify surplus land suitable for housing development in all 15 towns on Cape Cod. Many recent housing projects have involved a change of use of former commercial properties, including two converted motels in Yarmouth, the old Cape Cod Five Bank headquarters in Orleans, and the ongoing project at Provincetown’s former VFW hall. The commission would also help the towns develop requests for proposals for housing.
“The language in the amendment is broad,” said Cyr, “to give the commission flexibility to assess all potential locations.”
A fourth earmark from Cyr is for $250,000 to convene a region-wide housing advocacy coalition. It would help develop zoning changes and advocacy efforts in every town on the Cape and Islands.
Peake and Cyr had a few other earmarks as well. An amendment from Peake directs $500,000 to the Structured Outpatient Addiction Program that was recently established at Outer Cape Health Services in Wellfleet. The money will help the program transition from an online-only pandemic-era program into a physical space, with four offices and a meeting room.
An amendment from Cyr will direct $400,000 to the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod. It will support a three-year program of mini-grants to artists for professional development, skills training, and support services.
Two more amendments from Cyr: $60,000 to Amplify POC Cape Cod, for the promotion of minority-owned small businesses, and $80,000 to Cape Cod Young Professionals, for workforce development initiatives.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story, published in print on Nov. 18, incorrectly reported that “billions of dollars” would be allocated to relief for frontline workers. The actual amount is most likely around $500 million.