There are many ways to address the gap between wages and housing costs.
Better jobs, obviously. Dennis has already made adjustments to our industrial zoning to allow some new industries into town. Perhaps we will need to further adjust this. I have started looking at the “innovation” district zoning that several communities have adopted for consideration. In these districts the goal is to provide opportunities for new thinking and ideas to bubble up.
Or, we could look at supply side alternatives. Generally, a housing market should have a 3% to 5% vacancy rate to allow easy movement of the population. In Dennis we are barely at 1%. To achieve an appropriate vacancy rate we would need to add as many as 800 housing units to the current housing supply. Under today’s zoning, creating this increase in housing would consume just about all the vacant land zoned for residential uses in Dennis. Maintaining this type of vacancy rate long term would require density increases. We have strategically introduced housing density increases in Dennis Port and West Dennis Village Centers. These efforts will need to continue.
Another option, working with the existing housing supply, would be to protect certain areas of town from converting “homes” into “businesses”. Specifically, adopting zoning restrictions on weekly rentals. What could be a particularly controversial concept. Areas of Hawaii (1, 2), California (3, 4), West Virginia (5) and Utah have all adopted limits on where weekly rentals can be located, essentially setting up sections of communities that protect year-round residents from the direct impacts or the “summer vacation” population. Hull is also dealing with this issue currently, Homeowners fight ruling that bans rentals.
In Dennis, in general our largest concentrations of seasonal housing is either north of Route 6A or south of Route 28.
Dennis has about 6,000 weekly type rental permits, the vast majority of the seasonal housing units reported by the Census. There are impacts on housing affordability, on both sides of the discussion, due to the seasonal weekly rental market. The availability of rental income allows a buyer/investor to pay more for a home than a year-round resident worker, pushing up housing value. On the flip-side, the availability of rental income may allow a future retiree with the ability to buy in to the over-heated housing market.
If the town were to restrict new weekly rentals in certain areas, say between Route 6A and Route 28, a portion of the housing demand inflating housing costs could be controlled.
A lot we need to ponder.