Can a Colorado-inspired housing program help Provincetown? Here's the plan.

Earlier this month, Provincetown approved a new program that will allow homeowners to sell deed restrictions on year-round housing units to the town in order to promote and support housing for local residents — a move that some officials said is the first of its kind to be adopted in the commonwealth.

Michelle Jarusiewicz, housing director for Provincetown, described their housing situation as “way beyond dire,” and said this program would be another “tool” to add to their long list of policies to address the town's housing shortage.

“I believe in having many tools, there's no one tool that's going to solve this,” Jarusiewicz said. “Each tool has its limited impact, but all together it has a greater impact — we just need even more to make it lasting.”

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Provincetown Town Hall is located on Commercial Street. (Photo: Merrily Cassidy/Cape Cod Times file)
Provincetown Town Hall is located on Commercial Street. (Photo: Merrily Cassidy/Cape Cod Times file)

The idea came from a housing official in Vail, Colorado.

Nathan Butera, of the Provincetown Year-Round Market Rate Rental Housing Trust, said they were introduced to the idea by a housing official from Vail, Colorado. The official told members of the Select Board, the Community Housing Council and the trust in December about the program, and Butera said the town moved to create something similar.

“The need to create year-round housing has been paramount,” Butera said. “It's become so acute that we're looking for immediate solutions.”

He said the program could prove helpful in the creation of year-round housing because of the lack of any kind of income requirement typically associated with deed restrictions.

“The requirement is instead a residency requirement,” he said. “In the past, we've looked at things like you could have to live here for 46 weeks out of 52. That's a possibility, but again, that's to be decided later.”

The program could also work to help homebuyers afford the down payment, Butera said, as selling a deed restriction to the town would amount to the price of a down payment for a home.

“There are properties in which some people who are living and working can afford the monthly payment, but many people can't afford the downpayment,” he said. “And that's the place where I thought I could see the program working.”

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The measure follows recent state action.

The measure comes two months after Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and others filed a slate of housing bills to address the housing crisis on the Cape. One of the bills filed included legislation to allow towns and municipalities to set up this kind of deed restriction program.

Even though legislation has already been filed and the home rule petition has been adopted by the town, Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, said it will be a longer process to get the program implemented.

“I think it’s an interesting idea and was something that was brought to the Select Board and that Select Board has really taken a lead on this,” Peake said. “And there may be several other communities who do it as well.”

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Here's how the program works.

The program would be voluntary and would allow for owners of year-round housing units to sell a deed restriction to the town — for a yet to be determined rate — and the deed restriction would then live with the property in perpetuity, only allowing the unit to be occupied by a year-round resident. The program would grant Provincetown a more direct role in controlling its year-round housing stock.

“It was great to see the passion that many voters — both old and new — brought to town meeting, specifically around housing,” Provincetown Select Board Chair David Abramson said in a press statement. “Housing is the top priority of both the Select Board and town administration, and we are committed to engaging all stakeholders in continued discussions and planning around what can, should, and will be done to preserve and expand year-round housing in Provincetown.”

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Short-term rentals in Provincetown are 'devastating' to the town.

Jarusiewicz said the advent of the short-term rental category and its growing demand has had a devastating impact on the town’s demographics, labor market and housing stock.

“It started decades ago, we saw the families migrating, and then we ended up closing the high school because we got down to, I think, a class of six, you know, so it's drastically impacted the demographics in town,” she said. “And even when we’ve hired town managers, high-paying jobs, often the key turning point was 'could they find housing?'”

Butera said the deed restriction program could help combat the sharp rise in housing units that have become short-term rentals, thus creating a more robust year-round housing stock.

“This is one of the few win-win situations for the town,” Butera said. “You're not taking anything away from anyone, you're not passing regulations, it's a voluntary program, and it could work to create housing — I don't think it'll solve the whole problem, but I think it's pretty powerful.”

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This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Provincetown: Deed restriction sale program for year-round housing