Our View: Reimagine Housing

by The Cape Cod Chronicle

Indulge us for a moment. Forget everything you know about housing.

Forget wooded residential subdivisions with long driveways and lots of outdoor space. Forget a neighborhood full of backyards, each with its own swing set for the kids and its own patio and cookout grill. Even forget the quaint stand-alone Cape Cod cottage. A little uncomfortable, isn’t it?

But as millions of people can attest, it’s possible to have decent, safe, attractive housing without all the comfortable amenities of the detached single-family house. Imagine well-maintained apartments, lovingly decorated by tenants. Imagine common green spaces where kids can play with neighbors or individuals can sit under a tree with a book. It might be different from your house, but it’s still a good place to call home or to raise a family.

Ideally, housing plans for the Buckley and Meetinghouse Road properties in Chatham would have somewhat less density than presented at a forum last week. But it will be up to developers to propose plans that retain neighborhood character while maximizing the number of units so the development is financially feasible to build. It’s also an undeniable fact that Chatham is experiencing a housing crisis, and lots of units — particularly one-bedroom apartments — are needed right now. Cape Cod, and Chatham especially, simply doesn’t have the available land to build quaint, freestanding cottages for every family that needs housing.

Don’t get us wrong: higher-density housing is only possible where the infrastructure allows it. That means access to the town sewer system so the additional bedrooms don’t harm water quality. It also means making sure the nearby roads and intersections are improved so they can handle increased traffic. Having proper sidewalks, crosswalks and bike path access is also key. All of these are possible at the two locations.

Despite comments we heard at last week’s forum, it’s possible for a working family to proudly live in an apartment even if they’re deprived of their own patio, even if their children have to share a playground with neighbors, or even if they take public transportation to go grocery shopping. Frankly, believing otherwise is elitist nonsense.

The best way to ease the housing crisis is by building multi-family housing in aesthetically pleasing developments that are well planned and well maintained. And we’re confident this can happen in Chatham, if we all just use our imagination.