Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Economic Downturn & Affordable Housing

Above, two bayside houses, to the right a traditional Cape Cod cottage, and to the left, a house that was bought at high price and totally renovated, creating a larger, more expensive structure. I have had blog readers email questions about how the economic downturn is being felt in Wellfleet, so thought today I would try to respond. The two major industries are shellfishing and hospitality. Fewer people are buying oysters, so the shellfishermen must feel the crunch. As for tourism, bookings are definitely down. Here at Chez Sven, we feel fortunate that three weeks in the middle of summer are fully booked, but June and July have more openings than last year at this time. Although the Cape unemployment rate of over 10% is higher than the national average, foreclosures are not happening as frequently as on the mainland. The Wellfleet population, 3000 in off-peak months, tends to be a mix of retirees, service trades folk, shellfishermen, and the occasional artist. The national goal for affordable housing is 10% of all available housing stock. Wellfleet is far from reaching that goal at 3%, with little wiggle-room for improvement, despite the best intentions of our Housing Authority.

At Monday’s Citizens Economic Development Commission meeting, Elaine McIlroy and Elaine LaChapelle addressed the issue of a lack of housing in general and work-force housing in particular. They explained current projects, like the energy-efficient Gull Pond Condos, with construction to start shortly. A two-bedroom Gull Pond Condo unit will cost $179,000. Some buyers seem put off by deed restrictions, which guarantee the home cannot be re-sold at market value and will remain affordable. The Housing Authority is also working to create rentals. If the average selling price of a one-family home in Massachusetts is $346,000, a prospective buyer needs $143,000 annual income to qualify. The distressing fact is most young people cannot afford to live here. As the meeting progressed, it became obvious that Wellfleet must seek out more inventive ways to create affordable housing while maintaining the character of the town. The Housing Authority has begun to investigate funding sources, including grants and private investors. Finally, we discussed Aging in Place, described by Mindy Todd on NPR that morning, an initiative that has proved quite successful on Martha’s Vineyard. Everyone present agreed that a similar program might work well here in Wellfleet.