PROVINCETOWN — At the four-committee housing workshop held on June 20, the town’s leaders expressed support for moving toward three large-scale policy goals: new regulations on short-term rentals, new rules to encourage multifamily housing, and new incentives to encourage landlords to rent to long-term tenants.
While there was broad agreement on overall direction, the four committees —- the planning board, the select board, the community housing council, and the Year-Round Market-Rate Rental Housing Trust — also decided that a smaller working group was needed to hash out the details of such a program, particularly for regulating short-term rentals.
“I don’t want to create the expectation that there will be universal support for every policy that’s being considered,” said Town Manager Alex Morse, “but I do think we can get to a place where there’s a broad group of short-term rental regulations to bring to a future town meeting.”
The workshop ended with a discussion of how to create a working group reasonably quickly, without the candidate-interview process that might be required for a temporary town committee.
At the next select board meeting on July 24, Morse will propose creating a town manager’s housing advisory group that would include three committee members, three members of the public, and a town staff member, he told the Independent this week.
The housing workshop began with a presentation by Morse and Assistant Town Manager Dan Riviello of some metrics related to the town’s housing crisis. Among them were the Census Bureau’s most recent estimate for the median rent in Provincetown — $1,326 per month — and the median nightly rate for short-term rentals in Provincetown, as measured by AirDNA.co — $425 per night.
“Obviously, this illustrates the central conflict for a person with a rental in town,” Riviello told the group. “They can earn as much as they would for a year-round rental in the space of only 37 days renting short-term.”
Another slide showed that the number of year-round occupied units in town was almost exactly the same in 2021 as it was more than 30 years ago — 1,968 units in 2021 and 1,942 units in 1990.
That means 30 years’ worth of residential growth has gone to the “seasonally vacant” category, which went from 1,418 units in 1990 to 2,826 units in 2021.
In the survey that was distributed to committee members before the workshop, every single participant said they were interested in trying to tilt the balance back toward renting long-term through some kind of financial incentive. Nearly every participant was open to offering incentives to people who rent to seasonal town employees as well.
Truckee, a ski town near Lake Tahoe, Calif., currently offers one-time grants of $4,500 to $10,000 for new year-round leases, Morse told the workshop. Despite the relatively small amount compared to short-term rental earnings, the grants seem attractive to some property owners who were already considering leaving the short-term rental market, Morse said.
The “Landing Locals” program launched in Truckee in 2020, and the company that administers it, changed its name to Placemate a few months ago. It has expanded to a handful of other vacation towns in California, Colorado, and Idaho, and is currently in talks with Nantucket, according to the company’s Facebook page.
According to recent reporting by the Taos News in New Mexico, in another vacation town that is considering a Landing Locals program, more than half of the property owners who accepted a payment in Truckee have continued renting long-term even after the payments end.
Select board member Erik Borg said that “it’s hard to bridge the gap” between short-term and long-term rental revenue. He added that “I see a little bit of bad blood” about the payments to new landlords from people who have been renting year-round for years.
Morse said it might be possible to have a smaller payment for current landlords.
The workshop agenda also included questions about how the town could incentivize dormitory and employee housing. Setting up a new title in the zoning code was a possibility, especially because committee members worried that simply adding dormitory housing to the existing inclusionary bylaw might lead builders to choose employee rentals instead of building affordable-ownership units.
Select board member Austin Miller jumped into this conversation with a broader argument about zoning.
“Single-family zoning is one of the biggest policy failures of the 20th century,” Miller said, “and I would love to see us be a leader in potentially eliminating it in Provincetown and upzoning to allow for by-right duplexes in residential districts.”
About eight people nodded in agreement, and no one raised objections.
“In California, the whole state recently moved away from single-family zoning,” Morse said. “Maybe we should have added that to our survey, but we can continue the conversation on that.”
The discussion of short-term rental regulations was a bit more contentious.
It began with a series of survey questions that showed broad agreement around preventing corporations from holding short-term rental certificates and limiting how many such certificates individuals can hold. Capping the total number of short-term rentals drew more discussion, however.
“We know that capping short-term rentals is not a guarantee of creating new housing; it’s intended to preserve the rental housing that’s already here,” said planning board member Michael Gaucher.
“I have a three-family home,” said Year-Round Market-Rate Rental Housing Trust member Cass Benson. “You’re saying, ‘You keep renting year-round.’
“You’re forcing me,” Benson added. “You’re saying, ‘You don’t get the short-term rental certificate.’ You’re saying, ‘Preserve it,’ and then I have to keep doing that.”
“This is why there needs to be a working group to talk about every scenario,” said select board member Leslie Sandberg. “I think we’re trying to move forward, and I think a subgroup would help move it forward.”
“We can reach a place where there’s a broad number of short-term rental regulations or related bylaws to bring to town meeting,” said Morse. “Not everybody will get 100 percent of what they want, but I think we’re heading in the right direction — and inaction is not an option.”
The meeting ended with a call to participants to reach out to Morse if they had specific ideas on how to structure a working group or related public outreach. The results of those conversations will be presented at the July 24 select board meeting, Morse told the Independent.