Chatham Housing Production Plan Update Paints Bleak Picture

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Affordable housing , Housing and homelessness

A Habitat for Humanity home in West Chatham under construction.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – Only a handful of affordable housing units have been built in town since the town last housing production plan, and a draft update of the plan acknowledges reaching the target affordable housing goal is a “formidable challenge.”

Currently 5.03 percent of the town's year-round housing stock is considered affordable, half of the 10 percent level established by the state and endorsed in the town's comprehensive plan. In order to meet housing production goals, the town would have to produce 17 affordable units annually, or 87 in the next five years.

This will continue to get more difficult over time as growth in market rate housing drives up that 10 percent goal, according to the draft report.

Yet the plan lays out a number of strategies for working toward the goal, including hiring a housing coordinator, looking at suitable public lands for affordable housing, continuing to put money in the town's affordable housing trust fund, and modifying the zoning bylaw, specifically by allowing accessory dwelling units.

“This gives us a plan to get to the 10 percent,” said Community Development Director Kathleen Donovan.

A public hearing on the housing production plan update will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. at the annex. Selectmen must also hold a hearing on the plan before it is sent to the state for approval. Copies of the draft are available at the town's website, www.chatham-ma.gov, on the affordable housing committee page.

The state department of housing and community development requires that the plan be updated every five years to demonstrate the town is working toward the affordability threshold. Attaining the 10 percent level allows the town to gain greater control over housing development by being able to deny inappropriate comprehensive permit projects which the developer could not appeal, Donovan said.

Most of the goals and objectives in the update remain unchanged. Demographics have been updated and progress since the last plan is included, Donovan said. “It looks at what we've done since then and where we are,” she said. Six units of affordable housing were created since the last housing production plan was approved in 2013.

A top priority of the plan in years one and two is hiring a housing coordinator. Chatham, Harwich and Orleans all appropriated funds to hire a shared housing coordinator, which will look at existing housing inventory as well as affordable housing strategies, focusing on the needs of each community. Donovan said a scope of work is being developed and a request for proposals may be ready in the next few months. Ideally, a housing coordinator could be hired by the beginning of the new year.

Last May the town contributed $100,000 to the affordable housing trust fund using community preservation funds, and continuing that capitalization is another near-term strategy of the draft plan. Another is exploring public property for affordable housing development, as well as pursuing a change to the zoning bylaw to allow accessory dwelling units. That was a goal of the last five-year housing production plan as well, as Donovan. Under that proposal, secondary units, such as apartments, could be added to single-family homes. While those units may not necessarily be affordable, providing that opportunity could increase the number of rental housing units in town, which officials say are sorely needed.

Currently the planning board is reviewing a draft accessory dwelling unit bylaw, Donovan said, and will be conducting informational meetings with various civic and community organizations over the next few months.

“The hope is still to go forward at this May's town meeting,” she said.

In demographic and economic profiles of the town and its residents, the 92-page draft paints a bleak picture for affordable housing. It confirms the decline in younger populations and increase in older residents and refers to studies predicting that those trends will continue. While the median income in Chatham – $65,750 based on the 2016 census – is higher than Barnstable County, the $592,500 median house price creates an affordability gap between income and the cost of housing. And the level of those earning even less is growing. In 2010, 543 households earned less than $35,000 and 348 earned less than $25,000; in 2016, those numbers were 858 and 592, respectively.

Almost 60 percent of the homes in town are valued at more than $500,000 and 20 percent are valued at more than $1 million. Only 27 owner-occupied homes in Chatham are valued below $200,000. To afford a median priced home, a buyer would have to earn $120,000, nearly twice the town's median household income level. Someone earning the median income of $65,750 could afford a single-family home of about $281,500, an affordability gap of $311,000.

The picture is no better for renters. With the $1,027 average rent, an income of $41,000 is required, much higher than the $24,288 median income of rental households. The figures above are based on spending no more than 30 percent of income on housing.

The affordability gap is further exacerbated by the fact that 56 percent of housing units are seasonal. The report states that while seasonal homeowners boost the local economy, “they have also driven up the cost of housing, creating substantial affordability gaps for many year-round residents, local workers, increasing numbers of seniors, and those who were raised locally but cannot afford to return to raise their own families in Chatham.”

Homeowners also have higher income than renters, and the median income of homeowners increased by 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2016, but decreased 44.3 percent for renters. Chatham has also seen a growth in the poverty rate of residents over that period, from 7 percent to 12.7 percent, according to the report.

A U.S. Housing and Urban Development report estimated that the number of households in town earning at or below 80 percent of the median income increased 30 percent between 2009 and 2014, from 943 to 1,168. Many may be eligible for housing assistance. The same report estimated that 913 households were spending too much on housing, and that among those earning at or below 80 percent of median income, 55 percent were spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing; 34 percent were spending more than half of their income on housing.

“If these demographic and housing trends are left to evolve unchecked, Chatham will lose ground on its ability to be a place where individuals and families across a range of economic and social strata can call home,” the draft housing production report reads.

Priority needs, the report concludes, the need for affordable rentals and subsidized rentals for households with limited incomes; a wider range of affordable housing options; and the need for more special needs housing.

Over the five-year plan of the updated plan, the creation of six units of affordable housing is project over the next two years, with 19 in year three, 20 in year four and 42 in year five. The only project actually in the works is a four-home development off George Ryder Road South. The plan anticipates the creation of 166 housing units overall over the next five years.

Chairman of Selectmen Dean Nicastro said he had not seen the updated housing production plan yet, but anticipates that it may be of use to a task force on retaining young families that the selectmen recently endorsed.

“Housing is going to have to be a significant piece of it,” he said of the work of the task force. Selectmen are scheduled to hear a recommendation on the composition and charge of the task force from board members Peter Cocolis and Shareen Davis at their Oct. 22 meeting.