Rentals are hard to find, keep them as property prices go up


FALMOUTH – Debby Wells moved to Cape Cod in 2013 and in the years since she learned firsthand that renting in Cape Town can be difficult.

She sold three homes under her, but found the gold in the home when she was able to secure a three-year lease for a condo in Falmouth.

This gold mine may be dry now, as Cape Town’s pre-existing housing crisis has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

The Wells landlord has not offered a new lease for the fourth year and she recently learned that he wanted to sell the property in the trending real estate market that has been boosted by the pandemic.

“With the house prices as good as they are right now, he called me (last week) and said ‘I’m going to sell the condos,’ Wells said last week.

Between the end of the state’s moratorium on evictions in October and January, more than 150 evictions – mostly for non-payment of rent – began to find their way into local courtrooms. But landlords who raise rent or decide not to renew leases are another form of eviction happening in the area.

The effects of COVID-19 are expected to continue to shake Cape Town’s housing landscape long after these evictions are dealt with, which will exacerbate the current housing shortage and accessibility gap, housing advocates say.

Wells, an empty nesting girl in her 50s who moved to Cape Town from San Diego, understands her owner’s motivation and hopes that if he finds a buyer he will keep his condo for rent and keep it as a tenant. But there is no guarantee that this will happen.

She doesn’t think she’ll have to leave anytime soon, but is already making contingency plans, possibly including a return to her home state of Maryland. Wells just wishes she didn’t have to make a life-changing decision in the midst of a pandemic.

Wells is not alone. Renters in Cape Town face similar problems of housing insecurity.

Assistance:How to get help if you’re behind on your rent, mortgage

Matilda Delano knows the struggle to find – and keep – accommodation on Cape Cod.

She moved into her current rental in Brewster in 2019, where she lives with her husband Jedediah and three children. This summer the lease expired and the owners decided not to renew it so they could use the house for their own family.

The Delano’s say they tried to find new accommodation in the area through Craigslist and Zillow, but couldn’t find anything. They stayed in the house after the lease ended and continue to pay rent, but now navigate the court system as the landlord attempts to repossess the house

“I never really thought that would happen to us, but here we are,” said Delano.

Cape Town property prices jump 16.8%

The stock of available housing, including those for sale, is quickly depleting as people realize they can move out of cities and work remotely from Cape Cod, said Alisa Magnotta, CEO of Housing Assistance Corporation.

This is evidenced by the number of homes priced under $ 500,000 on the market. These are the type of homes that workers can afford or would likely rent, she said. Around the same time last year, there were around 400 homes for sale in this lineup. Now there are less than 50.

“People are overpriced,” she said. “We’re just widening the accessibility gap even further. ”

The median selling price of Barnstable County homes jumped to $ 479,000 for 2020, almost 17% higher than in 2019. According to data collected by the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors, the selling price median has been increasing for years. In 2016, the median selling price was $ 362,500 and increased 2-5% each year until 2020, when it climbed to 16.8%.

Conversely, the number of days properties are on the market has declined – from 127 days in 2016 to 82 in 2020 – and the inventory of homes for sale at the end of the year has fallen sharply, from 2,480 in 2016 to 760. in 2020.

If the trend continues, Magnotta fears the affordability gap for the rest of Cape Town will widen to reach levels seen in Provincetown, where a recent study found that to afford a median-priced home, a buyer would need an annual income of $ 120,040. nearly $ 78,000 more than the city’s median income.

Behind on the rent

Housing needs caused by the pandemic are already among the highest ever seen by local housing organizations.

The Homeless Prevention Council, an Orleans-based nonprofit, released its first three-quarter statistics for 2019 compared to 2020 and saw a 35-40% increase in service requests last year. Several cities have created emergency relief funds in an attempt to ease the pressure, and the HAC has provided more than $ 1 million in rent assistance to 365 households since the start of the pandemic.

Despite the high levels of help, HAC and the board are concerned that more people will not reach out and agency staff are encouraging them to do so before it is too late, even though they do not know if they are. eligible for aid.

Hadley Luddy, CEO of the Homeless Prevention Council, is one of the housing advocates urging people to seek help as soon as possible when they fear eviction.

Some tenants who have been hit by the pandemic and aided by HAC have owed payments of several thousand dollars, running up against regulations that limit relief arrears to a maximum of $ 10,000. The council saw a continuing need for families and caregivers who must contend with the stress of juggling work, school and childcare, and hoped to extend their reach to the most isolated members of the community.

“Resources are available,” said Hadley Luddy, CEO of the Homeless Prevention Council. “We really want people to contact us. “

Frequent rent increases

One of those people reaching out is Lynne Pandiani Norton, 67. She has lived with her fiance in a townhouse in Mashpee since 2014. In January, the rent was increased by $ 100, pushing her to the edge of what she could afford.

Last week, her landlord informed her that the rent would go up another $ 100 starting in April.

“We can’t swing it,” she said of the soon to be $ 1,900 monthly rent.

She fears that this could work as a de facto eviction. Like several other tenants interviewed for this story, Norton said she searched, but couldn’t find another rental to run away from.

“I called all the real estate brokers on Cape Cod,” she says. “There is nowhere to go.”

She is hoping to see a moratorium on rent increases and feared the pandemic could cause lasting damage to businesses by pushing their employees out of Cape Town.

The Upper Cape Women’s Coalition is another group that tries to make life easier for people in Cape Town. The organization plans to submit a petition article to Falmouth Town Meeting to create a task force for a sustainable lifestyle for working families, said member Sandy Faiman-Silva.

“Young workers find it extremely difficult to live, not only in Falmouth but throughout Cape Town and the Islands,” she said.

The article would also create a child care voucher program, which could help free up more money in household budgets for housing and other essentials.

This could be all the more useful as people’s homes have become classrooms for children during distance education, workplaces for parents working from home, and essential for maintaining good health.

As a mother of three sons, Faiman-Silva saw the exodus of young people to Cape Town and feared that the peninsula would no longer see young people deported.

“I’m quite concerned about what’s going on demographically,” she said.

A better environment for Cape Town tenants

Housing advocates hoped last spring would be better for tenants. Perhaps the pandemic would scare people off coming to Cape Town and landlords of short-term rental housing would switch to more year-round leases.

“That is not what happened at all,” said Jay Coburn, CEO of the Community Development Partnership in Eastman. Instead, short-term rental properties had a record year and the real estate market skyrocketed.

Now, these same housing advocates are trying to avoid an even bigger shrinkage in Cape Town’s housing stock.

“The economics of what real estate owners can do on short term rentals, there is no reason why most owners of outer cape or lower cape inventory would rent them out (year round) as opposed to vacation rentals, ”Coburn said.

There are not many vacant units left among the year-round rentals that still exist. Many affordable units that come online have dozens of pending applications, and many housing complexes have waiting lists that stretch for years.

According to a recent Cape Cod Commission housing study, there are approximately 60,000 vacation rentals and, according to US Census data, approximately 19,300 year-round rentals. One of Cape Cod’s largest landlords is Bass River Properties, which owns 195 apartments and manages over 100 additional properties.

Founder of Bass River Properties Ronald "Ronnie" Bourgeois, in his office in a 2017 photo, said demand for rental properties is "through the roof."

“Demand is still at its peak,” said founder Ronald Bourgeois. “Nothing sits down.”

Most of its tenants are able to afford the rent, although Bourgeois has a few who receive assistance from programs through HAC. A tenant got help with about seven or eight months of rent arrears.

There are tenants, he said, who don’t pay at all and he believes some are taking advantage of the current federal moratorium on evictions of people affected by the pandemic.

Michael Pierce, a lawyer who handles landlord-tenant disputes, says his workload is heavier than ever.

“It’s sad to see because you want to keep the rental market strong, but a lot of private landlords are pulling out,” he said.

For Wells, Delano and Norton, who are up to date with their rent but caught up in market forces caused by the pandemic, there is little they can do to keep their homes.

“I don’t have my hands on the wheel at all,” Wells said.

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