Last week we reported on the buildout analysis presented by the town planner to the planning board and about how existing zoning has little ability to expand housing options in town.
We now know what the town’s residential development potential is under current zoning—a maximum of 294 new single-family homes—and we know that building these homes will do nothing to address the affordable housing crisis in Mashpee and across Cape Cod.
Few strategies aimed at increasing the number of affordable units have been proposed. By our count, there are three: development under the state’s Chapter 40B regulations; development under the town’s open space bylaw; and development under the three-party agreement with the town, Mashpee Commons and the Cape Cod Commission. Each option has its proponents and opponents.
If we are to pursue any of these options, we should be asking and answering two crucial questions: How many new housing units does Mashpee actually need, and what mix of housing types—apartments, single-family, duplexes, multifamily, et cetera—would most benefit those who are directly and most severely impacted by the affordable housing crisis?
Answering these questions is partly a matter of what the market will support and what makes financial sense for a developer, but it is also a matter of clarifying and prioritizing who needs affordable housing in town.
Now, what constitutes “a need for affordable housing” is itself an open and potentially contentious question, but we would begin with the state’s goal of having at least 10 percent of the town’s housing stock be deemed subsidized affordable housing under the Subsidized Housing Inventory, or SHI. Right now, the town planner said, about 5.3 percent of the town’s housing units are SHI-eligible. Meeting or exceeding that 10 percent SHI goal should be central to any development plan we consider as a town because low- and moderate-income people are facing the most dire effects of the housing crisis and they are at the highest risk of housing insecurity and homelessness.
After meeting the subsidized housing goal, the town ought to prioritize the housing needs of existing year-round Mashpee residents and those who are employed in Mashpee, many of whom commute long distances to work in town. That might seem to be an obvious and desirable goal, but a very real risk of any big development project is that a large number of Mashpee residents and workers will continue to be priced out of the town’s housing and rental market even after hundreds of new units have been built.
Mashpee might indeed end up gaining thousands of new residents in the coming decades, most of them from off-Cape. However, without genuinely affordable prices and the right mix of housing types, the affordability crisis likely will persist, if not worsen, for many housing-insecure people who are already here.