Housing Study Packed With Opportunities To Address Concerns

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Housing and homelessness

The classic family house near the water with a big yard is not the only way to think about housing in Orleans. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS — Creating housing options that match the town's changing demographics is not impossible, a consultant told the planning board and affordable housing committee last week.

Karen Sunnarborg, who's been working on a detailed housing study for Orleans, presented a clutch of short- and longer-term strategies at a public hearing July 25. “So much of this came out of the lively discussions and terrific conversations that happened during the community housing forum” on April 11, she told the boards.

In April, she said, there was “overwhelming support” for making community education on housing issues a priority and “a lot of support for bringing in some professional support for local committees with respect to affordable housing,” like the part-time housing coordinator hired last year by Dennis. “Provincetown has had a full-time person,” she said, “and Harwich is trying to get funds to bring a person on.”

Another capacity-building strategy favored by the community forum and listed by Sunnarborg involves pursuing sustainable funding sources and incentives for affordable housing. Careful to tie ideas to reality, the consultant cited Wellfleet Town Meeting's recent decision to seek special legislation for a 0.5 percent real estate transfer tax on property sales excepting the first $500,000, with proceeds going toward affordable housing initiatives.

Sunnarborg said Orleans should consider morphing its Affordable Housing Trust Fund, established in 2000, into a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The latter has additional powers to, for example, acquire, hold and convey property. Provincetown, she said, set up a Year-round Rental Housing Trust Fund to acquire properties and convert them to year-round rentals.

Zoning strategies are the next leg of the housing solution table. Sunnarborg said the April community forum showed strong support for greater promotion of accessory dwelling units, “particularly given the increasing number of smaller households.” This process, which lets the town add year-round rental units in existing residences, might benefit from streamlining permitting and perhaps allowing units in detached structures as well as significant additions.

Orleans took a first step toward inclusionary zoning this spring when it approved downtown apartment zoning that requires one affordable unit be created for every 10 market-rate apartments built. Town-wide inclusionary zoning, Sunnarborg said, could offer developers the choice of building some affordable units or making a cash payment to an affordable housing trust.

Again referring to the April forum, Sunnarborg noted concerns about providing housing for seasonal workers and suggested the town “really look at existing zoning to try to find appropriate locations to guide potential development of dormitory-style units as well as occupancy by numbers of people.” She said Wellfleet “is looking at a Quonset hut it might be able to convert into some seasonal housing units.”

Sunnarborg's report, a draft of which is available on the town's website, cites three development strategies to meet the town's housing needs. She said Orleans “has been pretty effective” in working with non-profit and for-profit developers to create affordable and market units. Further opportunities exist, she said, for mixed-use development, live-work space in commercial areas, adaptive reuse of non-residential properties, infill housing, cluster developments, and group homes for people with special needs.

The consultant asked for guidance on listing another development strategy: identifying town-owned property where housing could be built. “There are no parcels that the town owns that are not being used for a significant use that precludes housing, or otherwise categorically cannot be used for housing, such as conservation or open space,” George Meservey, director of planning and community development, noted. “There are 180 town parcels; perhaps a little creativity might eke out a parcel or two.”

The third suggested development strategy involves regional partnerships, such as the Tee Time affordable housing proposal in Eastham by a private company and the Community Development Partnership that attracted funding support from neighboring towns. (The Eastham Zoning Board denied the application for a permit, but Sunnarborg said that decision is being appealed and there “is still some guarded optimism it will move forward.”)

The final leg supporting the housing solutions table involves preservation and assistance strategies: finding funds to help with repairs for income-qualifying residents trying to stay in their homes, fostering opportunities for seniors to age in place (including inter-generational housing), staying connected with the Cape networks that work to prevent homelessness, considering use of Community Preservation Act funds for tenant-based rental assistance, and maintaining the status of existing affordable units.

Orleans isn't in this alone. Attending last week's hearing was Andrea Aldana, business and homeownership programs manager of the Community Development Partnership. She brought news of the Cape Community Housing Partnership, a “brand-new” initiative of CDP and Housing Assistance Corporation. Its goal, she said, is to “increase the capacity of towns to meet housing needs, giving knowledge and skills to create more affordable housing and building support for affordable housing.”

This fall, the Housing Partnership will present a Cape Housing Institute, a series of six meetings for, according to Aldana, “municipal officials, staff, committees, anyone who's a decision maker at the town level when it comes to establishing affordable housing.” She promised “Cape Cod case studies” that would help “re-frame the conversation” from what kind of housing towns want to exclude to “how to attract things you do want.”

Come January, Aldana said, the Housing Partnership will offer “advocacy training designed to empower citizens – low- to moderate-income residents, business leaders – to make them feel more comfortable participating in town meetings.”

And next March, watch for a media campaign Aldana said is intended to “demolish stereotypes of who lives in affordable housing.”

The planning board's vice chair, Andrea Shaw Reed, thanked Sunnarborg for her work on the housing study. “I have to applaud the density, the creativity,” she said. “You really opened up a lot of thinking for those of us who know a little bit about a vast landscape of possibilities. I'm hoping that we as a community continue the conversation.”

The affordable housing committee was scheduled to meet at town hall on Aug. 2 at 4 p.m.