Our View: Go Bold With Housing

Editorial.

The figures are, frankly, astounding. The number of single-family homes in Chatham sold during 2020 increased 53.5 percent over 2019, with the median sales price rising to more than $860,000. Orleans saw an 86.8 percent increase, with a median sale price of $827,000. Sales were lower in Harwich, increasing 10 percent, which in most years would be a respectable level.

COVID-19 helped drive record-setting real estate sales levels throughout the Cape as buyers sought a safe haven to live or work or moved up plans to retire here. Real estate professionals expect the demand to continue, only held back by a dearth of houses on the market. This also means to the asking price for what would once be considered modest, entry level “attainable” housing, under $500,000 (unbelievably, that's where we are today), will only increase, if any can be found. As of early this week, there were only 20 houses for sale in Chatham with a list price of under $1 million, according to the Cape Cod and Islands Association of Realtors.

If Chatham, Harwich and Orleans want to maintain any semblance of diversity among residents – age, income levels, education, skills – officials are going to need to ramp up efforts to create housing that's affordable and attainable for working people, both to rent and own. Orleans is looking closely at buying the Gov. Prence Inn property, and we support housing as the chief redevelopment use. The Chatham Select Board is negotiating with two private property owners to purchase land specifically for affordable housing; we don't yet know details on the size of the parcels or how many units they might support, but the $2,949,000 sale price will go before voters in May. We urge town officials to be bold – create as many units as possible using all resources available, including sewering. Higher density is an acceptable trade off to put a dent, even a small one, in the housing crisis.