Our View: The Pennrose Problem

by The Cape Cod Chronicle

Developer Pennrose finds itself at the center of affordable housing situations in three communities. In Orleans, the company withdrew its proposal to redevelop the Gov. Prence property, citing financial and scheduling reasons, although the move came after Alan McClennen, a member of the affordable housing trust, was accused of improper communications with the firm. Pennrose has also submitted proposals to develop two affordable housing projects in Chatham and one in Harwich.

Pennrose is behind some significant developments in the region. It built the 65-unit affordable Village at Nauset Green in Eastham, and is redeveloping the former Cape Cod Five headquarters in Orleans into 62 units of mixed income housing. Both projects received substantial local support, including financial contributions from surrounding towns.

But something clearly went awry with the Prence project, and while the company’s Chatham proposals have been endorsed by the select board and affordable housing trust, the vote was not unanimous, and others have raised questions about whether Pennrose is the right choice for both projects.

We don’t think it is. Pennrose specializes in rentals; it builds and manages housing complexes, and its Chatham proposals are contingent on building both the Main Street and Meetinghouse Road projects, in order to get the number of units necessary to justify its management model. While Chatham needs rental units, it also needs homeownership opportunities. That’s what was proposed for the Main Street property by the Housing Assistance Corporation, which submitted a strong plan that would serve a range of income levels. Some critics said the proposal was too risky, that Chatham has never done a homeownership project like that before. But that’s simply not true; back in 1988, the town built 32 single-family affordable homes. While there were initial oversight problems, those have been remedied and there is far more attention being paid to affordable housing today, ensuring that the HAC plan would adhere to the statutory restrictions.

We urge Chatham Town Manager Jill Goldsmith, who, as procurement officer, will choose developers for the two parcels, to strongly consider the HAC plan. Pennrose’s proposal for the Meetinghouse Road land, taken alone, was as strong as the joint plan filed by the Community Development Partnership and Preservation of Affordable Housing. That proposal, as with HAC, has the advantage of being from a local nonprofit.

Pennrose is a big company, with dozens of developments across 15 states. Although its presentation was slick and had the advantage of not requiring a high level of financial support from the town, it just might not be right for Chatham. The financial contributions the two nonprofits are seeking may be a tough sell to voters — especially if it is borrowed and needs two-thirds approval, an approach that should be avoided if possible — but the funding signals buy-in from the community, which desperately needs the housing, both rental and ownership.