Barnstable Residents: urgent, critically low affordable housing stock at risk

CRITICALLY IMPORTANT TO CAPE COD HOUSING EFFORTS. MISLEADING PETITION FOR TASK FORCE. PLEASE SHARE AND TAKE ACTION!

by CCWfC leadership member Meaghan Mort

“PLEASE let your Town Councilors know that a ‘Zoning Task Force’ of people who oppose the expansion of housing does NOT serve your interests and that you support *any and all* new housing that would alleviate what is now a crisis that threatens the future of our town.”

The next Council meeting is Thursday, April 15, at 7pm.

As most Cape Codders know, the town of Barnstable has a critically short supply of homes for sale, and rentals available. The inventory shortage was a crisis before COVID, and has now increased; finding a year-round rental is nearly impossible, and if you are in a home and your landlord sells in this “seller’s market”, it’s next to impossible to find a new home in the same town.

This crisis impacts not only workers, but employers.

What Barnstable residents may not know is there is a group that has a petition in front of the Town Council to create a “Resident Zoning Task Force” that markets itself as another opportunity for civic engagement in the process of creating more housing in local neighborhoods. Sounds good at first blush and I don’t blame anyone who may have signed the petition, but ironically, if passed, this task force would have the OPPOSITE effect for working families.

This proposal would force people, like me, who support more increasing available housing stock to have to go through YET ANOTHER committee, in addition to those already in place. There is already a “resident zoning task force”: the Planning Board. Any zoning change must go through a public hearing of the Planning Board with the additional opportunity for public comment before any other related committee meetings and a Town Council meeting.

Frankly, passing zoning changes that would make it easier for the workforce to live here is already a herculean task because of NIMBYism and a system set up to make it easier for people to just say “no.” This is what prompted legislation passed by the state that makes zoning changes like accessory development units (ADU) easier, so the timing here makes me wonder.

Most of the people this petition would affect are already frustrated by participation in local government because working families don’t have the time between full-time work, full-time/part-time school, children, and life to engage in yet another process, especially considering the processes ALREADY IN PLACE. It takes a certain amount of privilege – time, money, and opportunity to be participate in these committees as gatekeepers that are unelected, and mostly unknown to working families.

The petition asks for unelected civic associations to have a voice on the task force, giving them a role in deciding the rights of private property owners and in the long-term whether people like me who would like to become a property owner have the opportunity to do so. WORKING FAMILIES NEED HOUSING. WORKING FAMILIES DON’T HAVE THE TIME/SPACE TO GO THROUGH REDUNDANT LEVELS OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT TO EXPAND HOUSING OR SIT ON TASK FORCES.

Strangely, this “opportunity for civic engagement” isn’t being shared widely, not anywhere that I have found. Not on a website, not on social media, not even publicly at a committee/Town Council meeting. Instead, it’s been circulated privately and quietly submitted to our Town Councilors, and accessing this petition, unless you know the people who are making this effort, has only been available through a public records request.

In contrast, there is an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) bylaw proposal in front of the Town Council that would increase housing stock and rental availability, which has gone through a thoroughly public process and seems stalled for some reason, which is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t add yet another layer of bureaucracy. The proposal in the petition would slow this process even further.

PLEASE let your Town Councilors know that a “Zoning Task Force” of people who oppose the expansion of housing does NOT serve your interests and that you support *any and all* new housing that would alleviate what is now a crisis that threatens the future of our town. That includes acting now on ADUs, which should not be subjected to any further delays. We simply can’t afford to wait. The next Council meeting is next Thursday, April 15, at 7pm. Public comment is at the beginning and you have up to 3 minutes to speak. Zoom link in comments.

You can also send in public comment (link also in comments). Zoom link for Council meeting: https://zoom.us/j/98964951279 or provide written public comment here: https://tobweb.town.barnstable.ma.us/…/Agenda-Comment.asp

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