Brewster Select Board, Plan Board Approve Housing Production Plan

By: Bronwen Walsh

Topics: Housing and homelessness

The Brewster Woods housing complex under construction. Thirty apartments are affordable to households making 30 percent and below Area Median Income (AMI) and 60 percent AMI. Rent includes utilities, off-street parking, central laundry, tenant storage, and 24-hour maintenance, but only service animals will be allowed. TOWN OF BREWSTER PHOTO

BREWSTER – Hiring a program administrator was the first goal of the Brewster Housing Production Plan approved by the Select Board June 30, 2017. Three weeks later, the town completed that goal by hiring Jill Scalise as housing coordinator.

A self-proclaimed “data person,” Scalise is Cape Cod’s lead contact for administering Regional Community Development Block Grant funding for housing rehabilitation and childcare. She has worked closely with Donna Kalinick, Brewster’s assistant town administrator, along with consultants at Barrett Planning Group of Duxbury, to draft the town’s 2022-2027 Housing Production Plan, which was approved by the planning board and select board in a joint meeting Monday.

Scalise, whose main role is serving as “someone residents can connect with” to identify support services, said she typically speaks with 50 to 60 people a month, both homeowners and renters, in search of housing.

In May alone, Scalise fielded 131 requests for housing. Many of those were lottery applications for Brewster Woods and Serenity Apartments at Brewster, two new housing developments about to make 57 affordable units available.

“It doesn’t meet the need that’s out there,” Scalise said. “The more you do, the more there is to do. The town has worked very hard to make new, ‘out-of-the-box’ arrangements work. There’s buy-in in the town. There’s a commitment to create more housing choices across a continuum of income levels. You really have to cobble together multiple funding sources to make it work.”

A former Homeless Ministries case manager for the Cape Cod Council of Churches, Scalise has master’s degrees in social service and in law and social policy. Over the past 30 years, she has worked in Boston, Philadelphia, and Cape Cod to assist people experiencing homelessness to obtain and maintain housing. An active member of the Brewster Baptist Mission Team for more than 25 years, she has also served on the board of Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod.

Before the 2008-2009 recession, “if you had a housing voucher, you could find a home” on the Cape, Scalise said. But now, “people are having a much harder time because of diminishing housing choices.”

Between 2010 and 2021, the report notes, the median sales price of a single-family home in Brewster rose from $365,000 to $650,500, pushing median-income buyers out of the market. Housing rentals and purchases are even further out of reach for low- to moderate-income residents.

“The demand for housing goes beyond the service industry and housing for low-income families to professional hires,” Kalinick said. “It’s at all income levels. The cost of housing is up 36 percent over the last two years. I don’t know that we can change the tide. We don’t want it to be too late for Brewster.”

The Plan
The culmination of five years’ work, including extensive community engagement, Brewster’s 2022-2027 Housing Production Plan is based on public comment received during community conversations and focus groups over the spring, with input from the town’s visioning committee and planning board.

The select board and planning board met jointly Monday and voted unanimously to approve the draft, prepared by consultants from Barrett Planning Group of Duxbury, who closely collaborated with town staff, the state, and the Cape’s legislative delegation, Scalise said.

“Nothing’s going to change unless we work to address some greater systemic issues,” particularly rental housing and childcare, she added.

Top Priorities
The plan makes 29 recommendations in all. It prioritizes improving wastewater treatment while increasing housing density.

“Proposed changes in zoning is the next big hill that we need to look at as a community,” Scalise said. “Looking at zoning for multi-family dwellings is going to be much more complicated. The cost of construction materials has slowed down that process.”

It calls for amending the town’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) bylaw to streamline and improve its efficiency; exploring ways to require or encourage affordable housing; and incentivizing the adaptive reuse of existing buildings for affordable and mixed-income housing.

“The town has done a good job of using the 40B process to increase housing choices,” Kalinick said. “The select board enacted a policy to take half of short-term rental revenue and dedicate it to the housing trust, and $375,000 went to the housing trust via the town budget. That shows a real commitment by the select board to work on the housing crisis.”

Public feedback indicated that exploring a residential tax exemption designed to encourage year-round home ownership also is a high priority. The housing plan encourages taking a closer look at short-term rentals, so that more data is available toward making that decision in the future.

Planning board member Charlotte Degen called the revised housing plan “a comprehensive, in-depth, granular report and a fabulous body of work.”

“All of these planning docs are really important to a community,” Kalinick said. “We’re doing this because the community agreed that this is an area we should work on. You have to use that plan; it’s your guidebook. At the end of the day, it’s about people.”

Next step: submit the final plan to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Said Select Board Chairman Dave Whitney, “I’m sure when the state sees this, they’ll ask us to write everybody’s housing production plan.”