Eddie Foisey moved to Cape Cod in the 1980s.
“I remember Cape Cod, you know, last guy on deck, turn off the lights,” he said.
But a lot has changed in 40 years – as Foisey would say, “the place has grown”.
The place has grown, grown, but more importantly, it has become expensive. The average house price in Cape Town, according to Zillow, is over $600,000.
Foisey says he couldn’t afford a spot today.
“I mean, I’m just a working guy, you know?”
Foisey isn’t the only working man to own a home in Cape Town. Brian Zinn works for a school and his wife, Denise, is a nurse. They bought a house in Brewster in 1997, finding it “by sheer luck,” she says, helped by their timely arrival.
He agrees, “it was just a serendipity.”
Twenty-four years later, the couple have moved out, but rent the house to long-term tenants. Zinn says it wasn’t just one thing that caused this meltdown.
“It’s been a long time coming, it’s not just this crazy housing boom that’s causing all these problems – it’s been a long time coming,” he said.
A long time to come in this case means decades. And when the high-paying jobs don’t pay enough to become a homeowner, what happens next? Denise Zinn described the difficulty of hiring new health care workers.
“As a new young resident, they couldn’t afford to live there,” she said.
She also raised a difficult question for New Englanders to ask: when should I leave for somewhere more affordable?
“Seriously, I guess I never liked living there, so I was always confused as to why people were staying.”
Denise Zinn joked that people would say they can’t be landlocked, “and then they would work three jobs and never see the beach.” The Zinns now own a home in Pittsburgh, a two-bedroom condo recently purchased for $51,500.
Health care isn’t the only industry feeling the effects of the cap.
Rich Delaney, who recently returned from the COP26 UN climate change summit in Glasgow, is stepping down as CEO of the Cape Cod Center for Coastal Studies. He is an ocean and climate change expert. He noted how everything is connected.
“Housing and climate? They have to be in sync,” Delaney said. “For a while you could justify it – we live in this wonderful, unique place and there are all kinds of amenities for beaches and history and wonderful culture, but there there’s a limit to how much it’s worth.
He senses this challenge as he considers the next steps for his research institute.
“(It’s) one of the big issues for the growth of the Center for Coastal Studies, because we want to have more graduate students,” Delaney said. “Housing in Provincetown and the Southern Cape has been a huge issue for us, and it has stopped the growth of the center in that regard.
Delaney’s staff of about 45 could handle more graduate students and interns, but the center doesn’t have a real program because “to have a formal program where we bring graduate students here in large numbers , we need housing.”
It’s not just nonprofits that are hurting. State Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, recalled that when Secretary of State for Housing and Economic Development Mike Kenneally visited Cape Town businesses earlier in the fall, he heard one thing, high and loud.
“Business owner after business owner, whether it’s a small restaurant owner or a major appliance store owner in Harwich: we can’t find employees because people don’t can’t afford to live here,” she said.
Radu Luca, executive director of the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce, said a significant portion of the region’s workforce is made up of young people from Jamaica and Eastern Europe, who get a J-1 visa to work in the service sector.
But there is a catch.
“The J-1 student visa program also requires employees to have secured housing before arriving here,” he said.
Jay Coburn, CEO of the Community Development Partnership, said a few reasons Cape Town is particularly expensive include people – wealthy buyers in Boston and New York who can invest more than locals, as well as current owners who don’t support not development.
“There is a broad consensus in favor of affordable housing. Until he has an address,” he said.
Other obstacles include restrictive zoning and lack of land.
“Density is the only economically viable way to build housing,” Coburn said. “It’s also the most environmentally friendly way.”
If density is the answer, where is the money to build these projects?
“We have ARPA funds that are seeded for a one-time cost, so think about capital projects like housing,” Peake said.
Massachusetts lawmakers have earmarked $530 million of an approved $4 billion US housing bill.
Beyond money, Peake said, “we also need to bring stakeholders together. The estate agents, the housing society, the community development partnership, are working with the local planning councils to get the plans approved…”
This type of commitment seems to work. The Community Development Partnership reported that every town in the Lower Cape has a development project in the works. But some businesses can’t wait – they need staff housing now.
Someone is trying to make it happen.
Patrick Patrick is the eighth generation from Provincetown whose parents started Marine Specialties on Commercial Street, an Army Navy store that celebrated 60 years in business in 2021.
In the first 11 months of last year, the median price for a single-family home sold in Provincetown was $1.46 million, according to The Warren Group.
According to Patrick, “The writing was definitely on the wall in 2019.”
That year, he had employees who couldn’t find accommodation, so Patrick put them up in his parents’ house. He said it was crowded and “not an ideal solution”.
That’s when Patrick, a seasoned real estate developer, started working on what he sees as that solution: 28 dormitories that can accommodate up to 112 seasonal summer workers. Out of season, these rooms would be occupied by students.
The project, now named “The Barracks”, has received all the necessary approvals and permits, has the support of the city and even has interested companies.
It also generated a lawsuit from Butters.
On July 12, they filed an appeal to overturn a decision of the town planning council for a special permit. The project is suspended, but Patrick is optimistic about the barracks and Provincetown. His message to scorers?
“I think I’m doing my part to support the community, so I think they can, maybe they can do their part too.”