Does Habitat Housing Have a Place In Governor Prence Plans?

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Orleans news , Affordable housing , Habitat for Humanity

Options for how to use the Governor Prence Inn property on Route 6A are still being explored, but there is agreement among residents and town officials about the need for more affordable housing. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS – Habitat For Humanity Cape Cod wants to bring more density to the homes it builds locally on the Cape, but could this new model work within plans for the Governor Prence Inn property?

The town's affordable housing committee met with representatives from Habitat For Humanity May 3, which led to a discussion among committee members about how affordable housing should factor into plans for the 5.5-acre parcel on Route 6A.

Habitat, which has built 165 homes since launching on Cape Cod in 1988, largely specializes in the construction of one-, two- and three-bedroom single family homes. Cape residents who make up to 80 percent of the area median income in Barnstable County are eligible to apply for Habitat houses, and if chosen via lottery they are required to keep a mortgage and put in 250 hours of sweat equity into the home's construction.

But Wendy Cullinan, president and CEO of Habitat Cape Cod, and Beth Wade, the local agency's director of land acquisition and project development, said Habitat wants to begin diversifying its housing offerings. That includes the construction of homes that can accommodate more tenants with less square footage.

"I invited them because I think it's important that we see that everyone is trying harder to address this problem," said Nancy Renn, who chairs the affordable housing committee.

A preliminary design presented to the committee showed a home that is 18 feet wide in the front and 26 feet wide in the back. The average single family Habitat home is 40 feet long, Wade said.

The goal, Cullinan and Wade said, is to bring more density to Habitat sites where appropriate.

"Think of row houses," Cullinan said. "That's how we're imagining these, very close together to build more densely."

"I love that you are looking at increasing the density," said affordable housing committee member Fran McClennen. "We're increasingly becoming aware that we're not going to solve this problem one house at a time. So to have creative ways to increase density, I congratulate you. You're on the right track."

Wade said Habitat Cape Cod is also open to offering condominiums as long as they are "fee simple." Meanwhile, a two-bedroom cottage in Orleans could serve as one of the agency's first forays into rehabilitating existing property into Habitat housing.

The cottage is a secondary dwelling separate from the main house on the property, Wade said in an email following the meeting. The parcel would be subdivided, with the cottage rehabilitated and made available as a Habitat home, she said.

"Through our history, Habitat has focused on new construction," she wrote. "But we are often asked about doing this type of rehab project."
Habitat is in the process of conducting an appraisal of the property, Wade said, adding that a "construction scheme" of the property has also been drawn up by the Chatham-based architectural firm SV Design. Whether or not plans for the property pan out, Wade said exploring the cost and viability of the project will give Habitat a baseline to see what it might cost to rehabilitate other properties going forward.

The cost-per-unit for the new housing models has yet to be determined, Wade told the committee May 3. While the average cost for materials for a Habitat house is about $215,000, she said many other factors go into determining the per-unit cost.

"It's so dependent on the site itself and the amount of work that's required to get the site into shape for building," she said. "There's a lot of variation with that."

Conversation shifted to plans for the Governor Prence property, uses for which are currently being explored. Committee members said they'd like to see a neighborhood-friendly design of the property, including greenspace and areas for walking.

"I don't think you have to sacrifice density to do that," Renn said. "You just have to be smart with your density and also balance it with the natural beauty of the area. I think you can do both."

Members also said they'd like to see a mixed use of the property, including different housing options. Committee member Bill Stoeckert said there is a need in town for more than just affordable housing. He called attention to "the missing middle," residents who are in need of housing but who earn too much to qualify for affordable units.

"I think that would be a big sell for the community," he said. "I think it would be a recognition on our behalf that there are mixed needs out there."

A 2017 housing study found that the town is about 274 affordable units short of the approximately 900 that are needed to satisfy the demand in Orleans, said Marsha Allgeier, the town's affordable housing consultant. But accommodating Habitat housing on the Prence property could be tricky, she said, as it could require some subdivision of the parcel.

"I think the difficulty given [Habitat's] ownership model is that they'd have to have their own parcel," she said.

The Governor Prence planning committee is charged with coming up with three to five options for using the property, and the committee seeks to conclude its work by the end of September. The committee has undertaken public outreach in the form of online surveys to get a sense for what people want for the use and look of the property.

Whether or not Habitat housing can be folded into plans for the inn property, Renn said she was encouraged to see Habitat try and expand upon its offerings.

"The fact that you are becoming responsive to the way things are changing is exciting for your organization and it's exciting for the community as well," Renn said.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com