This is the fourth in a series of articles assembled by the Falmouth Affordable Housing Committee to start and promote conversation about the housing crisis in our community.
Everyone has heard the term “affordable housing.” What you may not know is that the current affordable housing crisis impacting our community of Falmouth has a tidal wave of effects on our quality of life and economic strength over time. Over the last five years, we have all witnessed the median house price double in our community, a fact that we have never seen before.
Many people in our community have worked hard to get to where they are as far as housing is concerned. You might be thinking, I worked hard to be able to afford my home here in Falmouth. Why should I be concerned about affordable housing? First it needs to be said that no one is begrudging you the hard work you may have put in to afford your house here. You earned it and that’s great. What you may not be aware of are the adverse impacts confronting our entire community today regarding our housing shortage.
According to Commonbond.org, the impact of available affordable housing greatly benefits the community. When an individual or family is able to make their budget last longer by reducing the percentage of their income that they spend on rent or mortgage, they become more likely to have money for more than just basic needs. Increasing the buying power of low-income households means more money goes toward local businesses, which in turn will grow businesses, schools and hospitals. In 2015 alone, the national low-income housing coalition found over a half-million jobs were created due to investments in low-income housing.
When people can’t live here in Falmouth, it means they don’t spend their money here. They are not putting their money back in our local community and businesses. Workers—the person who serves you your meal at the local restaurant, the barber who cuts your hair, the teacher who educates your child, the nurses who care for you—all may drive here from off-Cape, work their daily shifts, get paid and drive off-Cape where they spend their hard-earned dollars in another community. On the other hand, if that same worker lived in town, they would work their hours, get paid and spend their money in town. These same workers, if they could obtain affordable housing in our community, would be paying property tax to the town, thereby increasing tax revenue as well.
Here is the reality: for a person to afford the median house price in Falmouth of $400,000, with a 5 percent down payment of $20,000 and a mortgage $380,000, they would need an annual income of $98,136 to afford this $400,000 house in Falmouth. In addition, a person with only a 5 percent down payment would require private mortgage insurance (PMI). According to the Falmouth Housing Production Plan 2019, 68 percent of households in Falmouth make less than $99,999 annual income.
The 2021 National Low Income Housing Coalition report ,entitled “Out of Reach,” states, that the wage needed for a two-bedroom rental in Massachusetts is $36.24 per hour, which is the third-highest in the country. Here in Falmouth the fair market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $1,885 per month. A family would need to earn $75,382 per year to afford a 2-bedroom apartment. With the current minimum wage being $13.50 per hour, a household would need 2.7 jobs to afford a 2-bedroom rent. With the estimated average wage in Falmouth of $22.56 per hour, a renter would need 1.6 full-time jobs to be able to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Falmouth.
The lack of affordable housing is causing an increase in traffic, which in turn contributes to global warming, snarled streets, longer commute times, parking issues, et cetera. In addition, the very traffic being created by workers commuting from off-Cape may also discourage workers from taking a job here in Falmouth. Workers who cannot afford to live in Falmouth because of the large gap between their income and the income required for the high cost of housing may also not even be able to afford to commute to Falmouth to work. If they could live here, they could work here and not have to commute.
Falmouth’s population has been decreasing. A significant impact of this decrease can be found in our public school system. According to the Massachusetts Department of Education, enrollment in Falmouth Public Schools has decreased by 518 students in the past seven years. Families not being able to afford to live here results in fewer students in our school system. Why does that matter? If this trend continues, schools will not be able to provide the same range of course options for students. For example, when only five students are interested in taking an AP course (or another course in a specific, unique discipline), the school may not be able to dedicate a teacher for just those five students.
Then there is the “brain drain.” Many families in Falmouth have encountered the reality of their offspring not being able to afford housing in the town they grew up in. This is causing a significant “brain drain” for our community. Children are being educated and succeeding in our public school system, going off to college and not returning likely because of the affordable housing crisis. We have just recently witnessed the closure of the Falmouth Hospital’s obstetric and pediatric units due to a 39 percent decrease in birth rates since 2009. According to the June 26, 2020, Falmouth Enterprise, there were 328 babies born last year or an average of a little over one per day. The human resources director for the Town of Falmouth recently reported to the select board that the town is having difficulty recruiting and hiring people for open positions and that only four of Falmouth town department heads currently reside in Falmouth. One might speculate that the difficulty in recruitment might come from people not being able to afford to live in Falmouth and not wanting to face all the traffic getting to/from work every day.
Our year-round population is 30,990; however, the seasonal population more than triples to 105,000. This increase of 74,000 people has caused a dramatic strain on services provided in our community due to lack of workers being able to live here. Because of the affordable housing crisis, it’s becoming harder and harder for businesses to have the staff available to provide the services needed by these additional 74,000 people. Restaurants and other small businesses are unable to be open seven days a week in the summer as in prior years.
In summary, to maintain our quality of life and economic strength as a destination community, affordable and fair housing needs to be a cornerstone of our community.