Cape Cod officials said Thursday that the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial disruption it's caused for many have shined a spotlight on connections between housing, health care and the economy.
On a call with other members of the Cape's reopening task force, Truro Sen. Julian Cyr said he's worried that trends in the housing market linked to COVID-19 "will only exacerbate how Cape Cod is so profoundly unaffordable."
Cyr said housing and the lack of affordable places to live was one of the biggest, most urgent issues facing the Cape and Islands region, where much new housing production caters to second-home buyers, before the pandemic hit.
"Cape Codders of my generation are struggling to make a life here," Cyr said, adding that the crisis has revealed existing societal inequities to be "gaping fissures."
In June, the year-to-date median sale price for a single-family home was $422,500 in Barnstable County, $871,500 in Dukes County, and more than $1.67 million in Nantucket County, compared to $415,000 statewide, according to the Warren Group.
The median gross rent in Barnstable County ($1,268) from 2014 to 2018 was similar to the statewide median ($1,225), though the median household income was lower — $70,621 in Barnstable County compared to $77,378 for the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"We have found that when health care is saying 'Go home and quarantine, that's the best cure or the best prevention for this virus,' you learn quickly that that's a privilege, it's not a right," Alisa Magnotta, CEO of the Housing Assistance Corporation, said. "Not everybody can afford to shelter-in-place or have the means to be able to sustain themselves while they're trying to shelter-in-place."
The Housing Assistance Corporation supports low- and middle-income households on Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard with homelessness prevention and housing stabilization. Magnotta said her agency has experienced more than a 400% increase in calls for rent assistance since mid-March.
"Even with the added help from the federal unemployment, people could not make ends meet," she said, and now that the additional federal jobless benefits have lapsed, there's been another uptick in calls for help.
Magnotta said tenants have been most affected, and there could be an impact on the year-round rental inventory because many landlords who "supply a very important housing inventory in our region" — often private homeowners renting one to three units — rely on rental income to pay their mortgages.
"It's really a perfect storm right now," she said. "We've got a hot real estate market, tenants aren't able to pay their rent and...there's no end in sight."