Inflation and the state of the economy were major factors in this week's mid-term election, and two stories in this edition bring that particular problem into sharp focus for local residents.
The Nauset Regional School District will hold a second district-wide election Jan. 10 to get voter approval to spend an additional $38 million on the Nauset High School construction project. Originally estimated at $131 million, bids for the work — specifically sub-contractor costs — put the much-needed work way over budget. Officials blamed inflation for the cost escalation, as inflation and supply chain issues have driven up the cost of goods and materials, particularly for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, which rose from $7 to $9 million above expectations. Short of abandoning the project, there's little else that can be done than raise the extra money, according to officials. Cutting costs back to already-approved levels would undermine the whole purpose of the project. While the state has committed $36.6 million to help rebuild Nauset High, officials are reluctant to ask for more right now out of fear that it would push the work down in the funding queue. This is something that should be pursued after the vote, which, if approved, will demonstrate the region's commitment to the project, despite the additional cost.
A report by The Concord Group released at a conference in Hyannis Nov. 3 highlights just how hard the escalating cost of housing has hit the Cape — to the point that it is largely responsible for the slow growth of the region's economy. According to the report, while GDP grew at a rate of 11 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020, growth on the Cape was only 2 percent. That trend is likely to continue, according to the report, as the region annually hemorrhages some 830 households earning under $100,000. That means fewer workers, constricting the growth of local businesses. It will also probably lead to an increase in the number of workers commuting from off Cape, already at nearly 48 percent of the Cape's workforce. That also strains the environment and further strangles the region's traffic, not to mention stressing out workers. More modest, affordable (both capital “A” and attainable) housing — single- and multi-family homes — are certainly needed, but this statistic is telling: while the number of housing units in Barnstable County increased by more than 4,700 between 2010 and 2019, the number of units occupied year-round went down by 3,800. No doubt that number has increased as real estate prices skyrocketed over the past several years. The full Concord Group report can be found at housingtoprotectcapecod.org.
Local towns have no control over inflation. We're in budget development season, and it behooves officials to keep rising prices in the forefront of their planning. A number of towns have housing initiatives in the works, but most will make little more than a dent in the growing problem. The coalition announced at last week's conference aims to mobilize residents and businesses in support of policies that foster year-round housing while protecting the environment and community character, but altering zoning to make it easier to build the type of housing needed, especially dense multi-family units, will face an uphill battle from the NIMBYS and those who see this as threatening their precious property values. Getting folks to understand that the alternative is much more dire for their investment will require a significant shift in mindset. And it won't be easy.