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One year in: Cape Cod coalition says it's building momentum to create more housing

Participants in the second annual Housing to Protect Cape Cod summit talk during a break, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023.
Jennette Barnes
Participants in the second annual Housing to Protect Cape Cod summit talk during a break, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023.

A pro-housing coalition of nonprofits and business groups on Cape Cod and the Islands says it’s building momentum behind policy proposals that would make housing more affordable in this high-priced region.

The group, Housing to Protect Cape Cod, hosted more than 300 people yesterday for its second annual summit at the Cape Codder in Hyannis.

“We've spent a year … increasing the number of people that have signed our Housing to Protect Cape Cod petition, convening groups, huddles, happy hours, convening and really trying to bring people together around housing,” said Alisa Magnotta, CEO of the nonprofit Housing Assistance Corporation, one of the main organizers.

“And we have been very successful,” she said.

One measure of that success, she said, is the emergence of opponents to counter the growing support.

State Senator Julian Cyr highlighted opposition to 160 units of proposed housing on the Walsh property in Truro, particularly from part-time Truro residents. He said it’s insulting to year-round residents to suggest that they can’t make an informed decision.

“The idea that we are too ill informed, unknowledgeable, to make determinations about the community we steward year after year, [where] we keep the lights on in February and March and April when it's gray as hell here — that we somehow are not fit, not fit to make that determination, is so profoundly insulting,” he said.

The housing coalition conducts workshops that teach residents how to speak up for pro-housing policies in town government. The group supports zoning changes that would streamline permitting for housing projects, encourage reuse of existing buildings, and allow homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (also known as in-law apartments) by right, rather than with a special permit — a proposal Gov. Maura Healey included in her housing bill.

Healey and some local organizations also support real estate transfer fees, which are local-option fees on high-value property transactions, with the proceeds going to affordable housing.

A regional survey conducted for the Cape Cod Commission shows residents’ biggest housing concern is affordability, followed by aesthetics and design, said Kristy Senatori, executive director of the commission.

Respondents were less worried about housing density, she said.

Edward Augustus, Healey’s housing secretary, addressed the summit.

He said that when people can’t afford to buy a home here, some of them — including young adults who have been raised in the area and educated in local schools — end up moving out of state.

“Just when they're ready to give back and contribute to our economy, and use all that great education and skills, they’re off to someplace else,” he said. “And we've educated somebody to support the North Carolina workforce. That's crazy. That's a crazy policy."

Two members of the coalition — the Association to Preserve Cape Cod and Housing Assistance Corporation — have collaborated on a map of priority areas for affordable year-round housing and separate areas of priority for natural resource protection.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.