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'Nowhere to go': The pandemic pushes the housing crisis to a tipping point

Cape Cod housing
Posted at 9:10 AM, Jul 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-09 12:10:39-04

CAPE COD, Ma. — Cape Cod is a coastal paradise synonymous with sunrises and expensive beachside hideaways.

To Allie Dubois and her family, however, Cape Cod is simply home.

“I married a lifer, so here we are. I married a Cape Cod boy,” she said.

Dubois has lived in the Cape for 12 years. For her husband and son, it’s the only home they’ve known. Between the two parents, they work six jobs to make it stay that way. Despite their hard work, their lives here could be coming to an end.

“You can't truly think about anything else when you're facing homelessness. It's really scary,” said Dubois.

On May 1, they learned their landlord is selling their rental, and the Dubois family need to be out before August. Finding a new place to live has become nearly impossible.

“It’s not like we’re not looking, it’s just that there’s nothing,” said the mother.

Hadley Luddy heads the Cape’s Homeless Prevention Council, one of the housing advocacy nonprofits on the Cape. They coordinate resources for residents who are on the brink of losing their homes, and recently, they’ve hit a hard truth: there are barely any places available to send people.

“We are really in a crisis situation, and we are slowly but surely losing huge numbers of our workforce,” said Luddy.

Across the country, house prices are increasing and inventory is decreasing. Luddy says that landlords are also learning, especially in places where people vacation, more money can be made through short-term rentals through apps, like Airbnb or VRBO. In Cape Cod, the pandemic has only made this problem worse for the working class.

“We saw this huge influx of people purchasing houses, and that's really driven a crisis to a tipping point,” she said.

According to the New York Times analysis of Post Office data, Cape Cod was the fourth most popular destination for urbanites to move to full time and embrace the remote-work life.

Luddy says she is seeing houses being bought sight unseen and, in some cases, for up to $100,000 above the asking price, making it nearly out of the question for the year-round workforce to compete for housing.

“I think a lot more folks in our community understand that we have got to address this problem and address it quickly if we're going to maintain the kind of way of life and the character of our community,” said Jay Coburn, the CEO of community development partnership, another local housing nonprofit.

He says the solution is simple.

“We are going to have to build our way out of this problem,” he said.

The means of getting there is not.

At Hole in One, a bakery and eatery, the owners have found one creative solution to the housing problem to maintain their workforce: build it themselves. Five employees live in a house that owner Ken Taber bought.

“If you don't have the labor force to service those folks and their demands, then you have to make a financial decision,” said Taber.

Even with the investment into a house, he’s had to cut back on operation hours. Other business owners, he says, have had to close on days they’d usually be open.

“If businesses start failing or start dropping off because the labor shortage isn't there for them to survive, I don't see how the community benefits," Taber said.

Other solutions include using funds from a short-term rental tax to build affordable housing or to incentivize current homeowners to rent long-term to locals. Some towns in the Cape have already voted to make that happen, but nonprofits say it needs to happen across the board.

“It’s become such a crisis situation that we also need to make much more of a plea to our local residents and our new neighbors that are joining us here to say we have to pay attention. We have to find ways to really incentivize people to rent year-round to our local workforce,” said Luddy.

Meanwhile, Dubois continues to wait for the one solution that will keep her family in the area they love.

“People just need some help. No one's looking for a handout or to be entitled. I'm willing to pay. I just need somewhere for my family to go," she said.