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Updates on Our Housing Efforts from Town Manager Alex Morse

Top Image: Alex Morse Provincetown’s Town Manager
Photo: Steve Desroches

As we approach the upcoming summer season, I’ve seen an uptick in comments and concerns regarding the availability of housing for both year-round residents and seasonal workers. I’ve heard people say that they don’t see the Town doing anything to address the housing crisis or build new housing units. I want to take a few moments and provide some updates on a number of projects and initiatives the Town is advancing to address our community’s housing crisis.

First, I want to acknowledge that Provincetown has long led the way in addressing the housing crisis facing communities across Cape Cod. The Town has been a leader in the development of affordable and community housing, and we lead the region in reaching the state’s 10% Low Income Housing Inventory mandate at 9.6%, with a plan to exceed 10% in the next two years. While this is a significant milestone for the Town, it certainly isn’t  “mission accomplished.” We realize that the housing crisis is far from over, and we are committed to addressing the attainability and availability of housing for all people who live and work in Provincetown.

3 Jerome Smith Road: Among the most exciting and impactful projects in the pipeline is the housing development at 3 Jerome Smith Road. The Community Builders plan to break ground on the construction of 65 units of new, affordable, year-round apartments – 18 studio apartments, 32 one-bedroom units, 10 two-bedroom units, 5 three-bedroom units, and 4 units designated as community-based housing units for people with disabilities. Construction is slated to begin this May and will take approximately 18 months to build. When these units come online, Provincetown residents will have preference. When the time comes, we will do all we can to ensure as many residents and workers are aware of the application and leasing process. This project is being built by The Community Builders at the site of the old VFW building, land that the Town has owned and has sat dormant since 2013. The Select Board and Town Administration have made this project a priority, and we received funding from the State in the first round last year, allowing us to move forward. We appreciate Town Meeting voters for approving a $3 million local commitment towards the project, as well as the Community Preservation Committee for appropriating $500,000 in CPA funds, both of which helped us ensure the project would advance as quickly as possible. 

Lease to Locals: We realize that construction of new units takes time, and people are losing and looking for housing now. With that in mind, the Select Board and the Year-Round Market-Rate Rental Housing Trust have appropriated over $400,000 to launch what’s called a “Lease to Locals” program. This program offers cash incentives to homeowners who rent their homes year-round to qualified households. 

The goal of the program is to increase the supply of long-term housing available to local employees and residents in Provincetown. Property owners will be eligible to receive $6,000 per year, per tenant that they are able to house, and upwards of $20,000 for housing 3 tenants. Our hope is that this will close the gap between short-term and long-term renting and provide a financial incentive for homeowners to rent year-round. The program will be a one-year pilot and will launch on April 1, 2024. This program began out West in Truckee, CA and other tourist destinations across the country, and has been successful in Nantucket this past year housing over 30 people. We are projecting that we will be able to unlock housing for upwards of 50 people through this program in the first year. Tenants must make below 150% Area Median Income ($130,515 per person annually) to qualify. We expect to launch the program in the next couple of weeks, and at that time, both tenants and potential property owners can reach out so we can begin the screening process. We are heartened that we have already been contacted by interested property owners looking to rent long-term to locals even before the program’s official launch! 

Harbor Hill: The Town recognizes the vital importance of Harbor Hill to our community. There’s no doubt about that. It was the Town, with the community’s support, that stepped up to purchase and renovate the property back in 2018 for over $10.7 million dollars. Today, the Town continues to pay over $500,000 per year in debt service, in addition to helping finance the property’s capital needs. 

Recently, the Year-Round Market-Rate Rental Housing Trust voted to explore the possible disposition/sale of the property. I want to clarify what this means and what it does not mean, as I’ve seen some people suggest that the Town is looking to sell the property off for maximum profits with no regard to the future of the property or the future of the residents who live there. 

Throughout this process, our guiding value has been and will continue to be to ensure that Harbor Hill remains year-round housing for our community members. As is the case for other Town-owned property (3 Jerome Smith Road, for example), whenever the Town sells property, it does so with a deed-restriction requiring that the property be used for rental housing, affordable housing, and/or year-round rental housing – all of which has been done in the past and is enforceable by law. The Town would never transfer ownership of Harbor Hill to a private entity without knowing that the property will continue to meet its mission to provide year-round community housing, and that no one who currently lives there would be displaced or forced out. 

I want to also say that the Year-Round Trust is merely exploring this option. By no means are there any assurances that there will be interested parties, and if there are, the Town is not bound or required to choose one if they don’t meet the mission set forth by the Trust and the Town. However, it’s also possible that there are interested parties able to take on the property and partner with the Town to address the significant and long-term capital needs of the property. 

As of today, we have 57 year-round residents at Harbor Hill – everyone from Town employees, to school-children, to local artists and performers, and even a Select Board member. The residents that live at Harbor Hill are the folks who make Provincetown, Provincetown. We remain committed to making sure that does not change. The goal of this process is to strengthen, not weaken, Harbor Hill’s longevity as much-need year-round rental housing in our community. 

The Barracks: As many of you know, local businessman Patrick Patrick has proposed, and the Town has permitted, a project known as the Barracks. The project includes 28 dormitory-style rooms that can house up to 112 seasonal workers, plus 15 apartments (6 studios, 8 one-bedrooms, and 1 three-bedroom). 

Thus far, the Town has done everything it can to advance this project and help make it a reality. The Town’s regulatory boards swiftly permitted this project back in 2021, and when abutters to the project filed suit to stop it, the Town directed our legal counsel to aggressively defend the project’s approvals, which eventually led to the suit’s dismissal. The Town has also reserved critical water and sewer resources for this project, and we changed our sewer betterment policy for this project specifically. 

While the developer has asked the Town for $1.8 million towards this project, in addition to other requests, please know that Town is yet to make a firm commitment. The Select Board is able to make a “soft” commitment towards the project, if needed, by the developer’s lenders, but depending on the funding sources, it’s likely that Town Meeting would have to vote to appropriate Town funds, as it did for The Community Builders project at 3 Jerome Smith Road. Furthermore, even if appropriated, Town money is always the “last money in,” – that is, only provided if and when the project has all of its financing and approvals, which is never guaranteed. 

Based on preliminary discussions with Patrick Patrick, in exchange for any Town subsidy, the Town would ask that all 15 apartments proposed are deed-restricted for year-round occupancy to help house local residents and workers. The Select Board also wants the developer to more adequately address parking and affordability.  

26 Shank Painter Road: This property, along with 15 Brown Street, make up the current/outgoing Police Station. Last year, the Town issued a Request for Proposals seeking proposals to build year-round moderate-income rental housing on the site. The Town received one proposal, from ESP, LLC, a joint venture of Ecotekture Development & Design and Salient Development Corp. The Select Board reviewed the proposal from ESP, and the Review Committee’s recommendations and voted to award the sale of the properties at 26 Shank Painter Road and 15 Brown Street for the development of deed-restricted, year-round rental housing at their meeting on July 24, 2023. 

ESP’s proposal includes constructing 40 market-rate year-round rental units, at least 20% of which will be affordable between 80-150% Area Median Income. Notably, these units will not be tied to state or federal subsidies, ensuring that their affordability is not restricted to specific income levels. 

To protect the long-term affordability and availability of these rental units, the Town will convey the property with a deed restriction. This restriction will prohibit the conversion of units into condominiums and will also prevent the units from being used for short-term rentals.

Awarding the contract to ESP does not bind the Town to the initial proposal’s specifics, nor does it result in the immediate conveyance of the properties. The conveyance will only occur once the project has been permitted, financed, and is ready to break ground. Having received the award from the Town, ESP will now work to refine their plan, meet with Town staff in preparation for the regulatory process, and engage in the regular review process with Town boards to get the necessary public input and approvals to move this project forward. ESP will be providing an update on their project at tonight’s (March 11, 2024) Select Board meeting. 

The Old Police Station & Firehouse #2: As stated above, there are plans in the works to develop upwards of 40 units of rental housing at the old Police Station site. However, the Town will continue ownership of the site until said project is ready to move forward. As such, we decided that the best use of the current station in the meantime is as seasonal worker housing for Town employees, specifically summer Community Service Officers. When Police Department staff make the move to the new station in early April, Town staff will make some minor improvements needed at the old station  in order to house approximately 7 seasonal officers throughout the summer. Throughout the last few summers, we have been unable to recruit adequate summer officers as a result of the housing shortage. This plan has already led to the Town having more than enough applicants for the upcoming season. 

In addition to this space, Town Meeting has also appropriated funds to convert the upstairs of Firehouse #2 (currently file storage above the public restrooms) into worker housing. We recently obtained approvals from the Historic District Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, and we hope to start construction soon. 

288A Bradford Street and 22 & 24 Nelson Avenue: We recognize that there isn’t an abundance of developable land around Provincetown. Over the last two years, the Select Board and Town Administration have brought proposals to Town Meeting to purchase private land for future development of community and affordable housing. In Spring of 2022, Town Meeting approved the purchase of 288A Bradford Street for both housing and open space/conservation. And at a Special Town Meeting in October 2023, voters approved the purchase of both 22 and 24 Nelson Ave. Together, the parcels can provide dozens of new housing units in the years to come. 

Some folks have asked why the Town would purchase privately-owned parcels, especially if there are no immediate plans to develop them. We believe it’s critical that the Town do the best it can to strategically “land bank” properties that will be available for the Town to develop into housing in the future. Once properties are purchased privately and gobbled up by private developers, the Town has little influence over its eventual use. We’d rather see empty parcels with plans for future affordable housing than the construction of new, private, unaffordable condominium developments that could be short-term rented at prices unavailable to most of us. 

We will keep the community informed as we advance potential plans for these sites. Sewer service will not be expanded to the Nelson Avenue area until closer to 2030, so to maximize the number of units, it’s likely the Town will wait until then or stagger the project in phases, where a smaller number of units could be built with an on-site system until sewer service becomes available. 

Housing Needs Assessment: Along with the Community Housing Council, the Town recently entered into a contract with the UMass Donahue Institute to conduct what’s called a housing needs assessment. The goal of the assessment is to provide a baseline on community housing needs, community views and opinions on housing, and current and desired housing situations. The results of the assessment are meant to inform town decisions on how to best allocate limited resources to meet the housing needs of Town employees, essential workers, and other year-round residents. The Town seeks better data as to the incomes of those who are housing insecure, so that when we seek to develop housing at future sites, we can make better informed decisions as to the type of development – traditional affordable or moderate income, studios or larger units, all rentals or some ownership, for example. As part of this work, there will be a community survey in which all residents of Provincetown are invited to participate. We will begin outreach on this survey in the coming weeks. 

Rental Assistance: We’ve recently made improvements to, and expanded eligibility for, the Town’s Rental Assistance Program. Called the Self-Sufficiency Local Voucher Program, renters can get up to $400/month from the Town. We also raised the income eligibility for participating tenants from 80% AMI to 100% AMI, allowing renters making $84,650 per year eligible for assistance. Some residents at Harbor Hill previously ineligible for assistance are now eligible. We also revised the 2024 application and condensed the required paperwork to make the process easier to navigate. The updated application is available on the Town website at 

Expanded Residential Tax Exemption: In addition to providing a 35% residential tax exemption to homeowners who live in their property year-round, the Town also provides that same tax exemption to property owners who rent their property to someone on a year-round basis. Also, homeowners who participate in the Lease to Locals program mentioned earlier will be eligible for the tax exemption, further decreasing the delta in revenue between renting short-term and renting year-round. More information about these exemptions are available on the Assessor’s Department page at 

Housing Feasibility on Route 6 and at the Veterans Memorial Community Center: Over the last two years, the Town has been working with development consultants to assess the possibility of using existing Town-owned properties for housing development. The analysis of the site of the VMCC included the potential for housing units at the upper end of the parcel, which the Town is currently taking a closer look at. Furthermore, the Town worked with a consultant to assess the possibility of housing development within the right-of-way on Route 6, the findings of which will be shared with the Select Board at their meeting tonight (March 11, 2024).

In addition to the efforts already outlined, the Town has advanced bylaws, zoning and policy changes, and infrastructure investments that will help us unlock our full potential to address the housing crisis. Over the last two years, we’ve strengthened our inclusionary zoning bylaw, allowing for 4-story housing developments in the General Commercial District along Shank Painter Rd. We’ve also made it easier for property owners to build Accessory Dwelling Units. And at last year’s Special Town Meeting, we passed bylaws to further regulate and limit the proliferation of short-term rentals – bylaws that other communities are now looking to replicate elsewhere. 

I should also mention that with your support, the Town is embarking on an ambitious plan to modernize and expand our sewer system, so that every property in Town has the opportunity to connect to sewer by 2030. This expansion is critical to making our community more climate-resilient, but put clearly, this Town could not meet its housing development goals without more sewer capacity. 

I know this is a lot of information, and when I sought out to write some things down I thought it would be more succinct than this. But I trust that all of this information is important, and I know that as a community we are capable of recognizing our past successes, our current and ongoing progress, and the important work still to be done. Town leaders recognize the magnitude of our housing crisis. 

Over the last few years, the Select Board has made housing its number one priority – and they’ve made it the number one goal for me as Town Manager, an urgency that is shared by all of us at Town Hall and the guiding principle of our work on a daily basis.

I would also say that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. That is, we must still address other priorities in Town – such as building a critically needed Police Station in our community, investing in our parks, public spaces and Town buildings, and addressing climate change and coastal resilience. Our work is not an either-or proposition. We can do more than one thing at a time, and we can advance multiple Town goals without pitting them against each other. But please know that no issue is of greater importance than making sure that the people who make Provincetown the special place that we all cherish can continue to call this place home for as long as they choose to do so. 

Thank you for listening, and I hope to see you at Annual Town Meeting on April 1st.

In partnership, 

Alex Morse
Town Manager

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