EASTHAM — Housing and economic development advocates have a clear message for Lower Cape town meeting voters this spring: “We Can’t Afford to Lose the People Who Can’t Afford to Live Here.”
That’s the theme of a public education campaign being launched by the Eastham-based Community Development Partnership. The message will appear in a series of newspaper advertisements and on social media.
Jay Coburn, CEO of the Community Development Partnership, said the campaign aims to reach citizens, “residents of the Lower Cape who live here, and through our town meeting form of government have a role in determining land use policy and whether affordable housing projects go forward or not.”
The campaign seeks to dispel misconceptions about community members who need affordable housing. Those people are often public safety workers, teachers or other contributing members of society, as opposed to people who don’t work or who are trouble to the neighborhood, Coburn said.
“They’re really vital members of our community” who help keep the Lower Cape vibrant and sustainable, Coburn added. But because of the disparity between local wages and housing prices driven up by second home owners, these people still don’t earn enough to afford housing without help.
The ads, created by Osterville-based Pierce Cote Advertising and underwritten in part by the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod, come at a time when voters at most Lower Cape town meetings are preparing to consider housing initiatives. In some communities, the discussion is about accessory dwelling units (ADU), and in other places it’s about affordable housing funding and the use of Community Preservation Act dollars.
“We’re just hoping that we have a more informed discussion,” Coburn said.
Given the severity and complexity of the housing shortage, there is no single fix that voters can adopt, he said. A carefully crafted ADU bylaw can be one part of a town’s approach when it comes to finding housing for working families.
“It can help address the affordable housing problem [for people who earn] above 80 percent of the area median income,” who often don’t qualify for subsidies, Coburn said.
Otherwise, convincing people to rent their properties to year-round families is a significant challenge. A study recently found that in Provincetown, a property owner who charges $1,300 a month for a housing unit can earn $15,600 annually. By renting the same housing unit every night of the 20-week summer season from May to September, the landlord can make $34,000.
“In those cases, it’s really challenging,” Coburn said.
“Among those most affected by the housing crisis are millennials struggling to afford housing, seniors who want to downsize but cannot find housing, employers who struggle to find housing for their workforce and second home owners who are summer residents who rely on the services of the very people who struggle to find a place to live on the Lower Cape,” a CDP press release reads.
“The education campaign was designed to educate and reshape perceptions regarding housing that is affordable and to illustrate that those who need affordable housing in order to live in our towns are valued, relatable and essential members of our community,” it continues. “The secondary message of the campaign is that citizens have the power to influence decisions through their voice and their vote.”
The campaign, which will continue over the next few months, is part of a broader effort by the CDP to encourage towns to move ahead with affordable housing initiatives. For the last two years, it has convened a special “housing institute” for town staff and committee members to share updated information and best practices for housing development. The group also provides advocacy training designed to encourage citizens to get involved in their towns.