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Year-round Cape rental website privatized; one more challenge for those seeking housing

Liz Lerner

Year-round renters on the Cape have one less resource for finding housing.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has privatized a housing website that, for years, many non-scientists in the Upper Cape community relied on to find dozens of year-round affordable listings.

“That website was kind of an underground go-to site that people went to looking for housing when Craigslist and Zillow and Realtors failed just because there's a lack of inventory,” said Alisa Magnotta, CEO of the Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) on Cape Cod.

The science institution removed public access after growing pressure from staff and students who couldn’t find housing themselves.

"The housing needs of WHOI’s roughly 1,000 staff members and students are a top priority. Recently we have been asked to limit general access of the WHOI community housing site to members of WHOI and our affiliated Woods Hole science institutions in order to address housing demands,” a spokesperson said. “We recognize that the greater Cape Cod community that may have used this open source information in the past no longer has access and we apologize for any inconvenience.”

This change may make finding available rentals more difficult for year-rounders, Magnotta said, but she doesn’t blame WHOI.

People are frustrated with them for shutting that website down,” she said. “It's very tempting to be upset about the website being shut down or privatized, but that's not really the problem. That's a symptom of the overall lack of housing and bad zoning policy.”

In other words, she said, the solution to the housing crisis shouldn’t lay at the feet of a private institution. But she’s hoping the loss of the WHOI housing site can be a catalyst for change.

“We have an opportunity to pivot here and to use that energy and momentum to change the zoning policies and lock arms to allow for housing in the right areas where it's not going to hurt the environment or upset clean water,” she said. “But that there's enough density that housing can be built that so that the people who live here year round can afford it.”

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.