Housing affordability is the No. 1 problem facing Dennis. The lack of affordable housing creates a situation where young people cannot afford to live in town. This means young people educated in Dennis cannot bring their knowledge or skills to town. It threatens everything that makes the Dennis a great place to live. Expensive housing prices make it impossible for more than a wealthy class to live here year round or for a second home market to thrive.
Dennis has done more work on this issue than most are aware of probably over the past several years. Our approach proceeds from two primary ideas:
1. Try many different solutions.
Solutions are hard to come by, we need to recognize the driving forces that push housing prices up, and tackle these head on. Dennis needs to add to the overall housing supply, fix regulations and invest in subsidized housing. The scale of the problem calls for us to make use of all of these strategies at one time.
2. All our villages are in this together.
Affordable housing is not just a one village issue. East Dennis may have the highest concentration (measured in percent of all housing units) and South Dennis the largest number of affordable housing, no where is the supply even near the demand. In every village over 40% of the year round population spends more than a third of their income on housing. Over 10% of the population is below the federal poverty rate. In short, Dennis has a tremendous amount of need for affordable housing.
The housing supply situation is even more dismal. During the first decade of this century we shifted to a predominately second home community, with nearly 52% of our housing count being listed as seasonal by the Census. Locally employed home buyers are outbid for modestly priced homes that get torn down and replaced with luxurious second homes or by investors who know they can earn more on weekly rentals than the average family can afford for a mortgage.
What follows is a snapshot of what Dennis has achieved in housing, where we’ve been set back, and what is before us in the upcoming year:
Affordable Housing Trust Fund
The Dennis Affordable Housing Trust Fund establishes a focal point funding for affordable housing. Dennis made a major step forward with the creation of the Housing Trust Fund. Housing is expensive to create — the average unit in Dennis costs over $200,000 to build, excluding land costs. Housing that is subsidized to be affordable isn’t any less expensive to build. Given land costs, it takes close to $300,000 dollars to make a single unit affordable in Dennis. Many sources of funding have never been available to Dennis for creating affordable housing, while other sources of funds have disappeared as the federal and state governments have dramatically cut their assistance over the past decade. The Dennis Affordable Housing Trust Fund, when coupled with Community Preservation Funds will provide a dedicated source of local funding.
Public/Private Partnerships in Housing Creation.
Housing under the control of the Dennis Housing Authority plays a critical role in meeting housing affordability needs. The Authority is the single largest owner of housing, deed rstricted or otherwise, in Dennis. Due to declining state and federal funding programs, the Authority has not been positioed to add to its housing stock. In its place the Town has stepped up to work with Habitat for Humanity, the Housing Assistance Corporation and other private entities to fill this void.
Habitat for Humanity has constructed two affordable ownership units on land provided by the Town. The Housing Assistance Corporation has broken ground on 27 units of rental housing on Route 134. Private projects include ground breaking on 8 ownership housing units, two deed restricted affordable, in Dennis Port and completion of the rental conversion on Route 134 now providing 18 rental units, with 5 of these units deed restricted affordable.
Addressing the Seasonal Housing Market.
The housing crisis has many facets. Two market forces artificially drive up housing prices, second homes and weekly rentals. Sites like ineedavacation.com and airbnb have made it easier for homeowners to find weekly vacation renters. The increase in units rented weekly, reduces available year round rentals for local employees and drives up the rental costs for the limited remaining rental properties.
The Town has attempted to address these issues. Heritage Sands is the first purpose built seasonal home project in Dennis in years. The 60+ units of housing, plus a smaller 5 unit cottage conversion on the north side, provide options for second home buyers and relieves pressure on the year round housing market.
Looking Ahead to 2015.
A Renewed Focus On Housing
The coming year will see a renewed focus on housing, and housing affordability. The Town has many irons in the fire; reuse of town owned land; zoning initiatives; pursuing projects under current zoning; and Community Preservation funding for housing all are on the radar screen.
After years of delay, the Community at MelPet is finally coming to fruition. Ground was broken this year with hopes to have residents in place before the 2015 holiday season.
Elkannah Howland Road and Janall Drive
Two projects approved by the Planning Board in recent years provide opportunity for additions to our affordable housing stock. Elkannah Howland Road is approved for the creation of 18 housing units, 9 deed restricted affordable to 80% of median income and the remainder restricted to 120% of median. This project has been held up in court for years. On Janall Drive eight housing units, two deed restricted affordable have been approved for construction.
Dennis Port Townhouses
Ground has broken on another eight unit project in Dennis Port. Two of these units will be deed restricted affordable. One of the affordable units will be fully accessible.
Candlewood Lane Housing
Years ago we started discussing a Chapter 40R housing project on Candlewood Lane. The concept is to rezone all the land adjacent to Candlewood Lane to allow for a higher density compact neighborhood. The concept would be similar to what is being built at Heritge Sands, but for year round housing. The proposal would call for a mix ofone and one and a half story residences with footprints between 700 and 900 sf. Conceptually, the site could accommodate 51 units of housing.
Route 28 Rezoning
We are exploring the possibility of rezoning Route 28 from the Dennis Port Village Center Zoning District to around the Cape Shoe Mart area. This effort would seek to encourage making this stretch of Route 28 into a walkable residentially oriented, yet still mixed use, area connected to the Dennis Port Village Center. The working concept would include top of the shop housing, townhouse development and clustered single family dwellings interspersed with rehabilitated and redeveloped commercial space.
Exit 9 Economic Center
Another big initiative calls for a new approach to the future of the land area south of Exit 9. The Economic Development Committee is exploring creating a Planned Unit Development approach for this area. The concept presently under consideration calls for a floor area ratio approaching 2.0. There would be three general land use categories, with development projects being required to draw floor space uses from each of the categories. At least 1/3rd of the floor space would be required to be residential, with a 25% affordability requirement.
Hokum Rock Road Community
Town Meeting approved land on Hokum Rock Road for the creation of a community for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The community will provide affordable living arrangements for a population that is at great risk of becoming homeless.
Looking to the future, there is still much to do.
Reform the planning process to welcome projects that fit within the zoning.
Dennis needs to consider moving certain zoning districts to “by-right” development with more reliance on properly defined Site Plan Review control as opposed to Special Permit control. Dennis Port and West Dennis Village Centers could benefit economically from a more certain development approval process. Changes in these two areas would also make the villages eligible for Chapter 40R consideration.
Innovative “Small” Housing Within The Affordable Housing Bylaw
As we have delved into the Candlewood Lane housing concept, its application on other sites has also been considered. The verbiage is being crafted to allow it to be applied elsewhere. Several sites come to mind, both public and private ones. Public sites include the former DPW site on Bob Crowell Road and parcels the town has foreclosed on around town. Private sites could include two properties that might make ideal mixed use sites. These properties could also combine use of Community Preservation Act Historic Preservation and Affordable Housing funding. These sites, in village centers, include the Columns site in West Dennis and the former Karl’s Landmark site in Dennis Port.
Affordable Housing Land Acquisitions
Since the initial creation of the Land Bank, Dennis has used Land Bank and Community Preservation Act funds to acquire land for conservation purposes. The Community Preservation Act funds could also be considered for targeted acquisitions of sites that are found to be optimal locations for creation of affordable housing. Willing seller sites currently exist, sites that are on market.
More Seasonal Housing Target Areas
The Heritage Sands community of seasonal homes has succeeded in reducing some of the demand for seasonal housing in surrounding neighborhoods in Dennis. Similar projects have the potential for reducing some competition for existing home resales, leaving more existing homes for the year round population in Dennis. We need to further analyze the dynamics behind the sales at Heritage Sands and find areas where such housing can be created. Modfications to, and expansion of, the Seasonal Resort Zoning District might be in order. Additional cottage colonies should be considered for inclusion in this district. In addition, the present by-law does not allow for increased density, perhaps, increased density could be allowed provided the building separation standards placed in the by-law are adhered to. The more purpose built, seasonal, housing we can create, the lower the home price pressures will be on the existing year round housing stock.
Tackling Weekly Rentals
This is a two step issue. First is the question of whether we should pursue measures to reduce the spread of weekly rentals, the second is the question of pursuing rooms taxes on weekly rentals like several of our neighbors are doing but with an affordable housing twist.
The advent of websites such as ineedavacation.com and airbnb have increased the marketability of weekly rentals. They have also placed the ability to rent a house for a few days or a week easily into most people’s hands. These sites have also increased the reach of investors into otherwise residential neighborhoods, turning homes into business properties. Some have recognized this transition, and have started to regulate weekly rentals as commercial land uses, rather than residential ones. This may need to be considered for portions of Dennis. Restricting weekly rentals in portions of town will protect a portion of the housing stock from potentially being investor owned. In Hawaii zoning districts are established that allow weekly rentals, and others that prohibit such districts. In San Francisco, they have defined residential properties as ones that are owner/leaseholder occupied for at least 275 days per year. Closer to home, the Town of Hull has determined that homes rented on a weekly basis constitute businesses in residential zoning districts and has determined that such uses are banned under their existing zoning. Looking at rental permit history, it should be possible to develop districts that allow weekly rentals, while prohibiting such businesses in some other areas.
The second issue is the rooms tax. Weekly rentals of homes do not pay the hotel rooms tax like hotels are required to do. Our neighbors have been pursuing expanding the rooms tax to these rentals on a fairness argument, basically stating that these rentals generate the same impacts on their communities as hotels. As I have laid out above, weekly rentals turn residential properties into commercial investment properties. The return on a weekly rental in July far exceeds what a local employee might be able to pay even for one month’s mortgage payment. These commercial investment properties drive up the selling price for homes and decreases the housing supply available to low or moderate income households working in the local economy. The local option rooms tax on weekly rentals could be earmarked to directly serve the portion of the local economy most directly impacted by these price increases. The tax on these weekly rentals could be dedicated to the Affordable Housing Trust for programs to increase the supply of affordable housing.
Dennis stands committed to meeting our affordable housing challenge. We look forward to continued community support for affordable housing.