34-36 Conwell Street

 
34-36 Conwell Condominium | HOW (Helping Our Women)

If neighborhoods were still named after the people who’d influenced their development (see “Bangsville“), upper Conwell Street might well be known as Maloneville. For it is here that the developer Edward “Ted” Malone (b 1954), the founder and president of Community Housing Resource Inc., has had his greatest impact. Since 1997, his company has completed five projects along Conwell with a total of 53 housing units — rental and condominium — and more than a dozen artists’ studios. That is almost half of all the housing units developed through 2012 by C.H.R., a private, for-profit company whose stated mission is “to provide affordable housing opportunities for year-round residents of Cape Cod.” Since there is no more vexing or critical an issue in Provincetown today than the economics of housing, Malone has necessarily been at the center — sometimes the crosshairs — of public debate.

The coldest-eyed economist might argue that there’s plenty of “affordable” housing in Provincetown already, since there are certainly people who can afford $2.5 million homes. If that’s the only available housing, however, and Boston and New York financiers and entrepreneurs are the only buyers, the town will be doomed as a vital community and destined to become nothing more than a pretty, seasonal waterside playground for the rich. Some would argue it already is: the closing of the high school simply being the last nail in the coffin.

Whether hopefully or a bit too wishfully, there are those who believe that Provincetown can and must be economically diverse. That vision, however, depends on the existence of housing that’s affordable to longtime residents (many of whom struggle with tax burdens on properties their families have owned for many decades), to skilled and unskilled workers and to the artists and artisans whose presence helps define the soul of the place.

Of course, that’s where things start getting really difficult.

To begin with, housing developers have few opportunities in Provincetown to exploit any economies of scale. You just can’t build very much here. A quick drive through town will open even the casual visitor’s eyes to the scarcity of building lots. Of the 6,444 acres that compose Provincetown, 4,500 acres lie within the Cape Cod National Seashore and are thereby protected (some would say “frozen”) by the federal government. There is no such thing as cheap land.

Geography is not the only constraint. Even more critical is the water supply. Like the rest of the cape, Provincetown draws its fresh water from the Cape Cod Aquifer, where groundwater is found in convex-shaped subterranean fields known as lenses. The water directly under Provincetown is too poor in quality and too high in salinity. Instead, Provincetown draws from wellfields in Truro over the Pamet Lens. If that sounds precarious, it is.

Recognizing these and other problems — how many overhead cables can we take? how many parking spaces can we lose? — the town instituted a master plan in 1988 that limited building permits to 28 a year, then stepped that down in 1999 to 23. From all applicants for building permits, the town gives first priority, “Level 1A,” to a project that is 100 perfect affordable housing.

So there’s one incentive. But a developer seeking to build less expensive housing needs more than just an easier permit process. Costs have to be trimmed as much as possible. In certain areas, like materials and labor, there is not too much latitude. A 2-by-4 costs what a 2-by-4 costs. A carpenter charges what a carpenter charges.

 

 

What can be controlled, to some extent, is the cost of money. For instance, since 1986, the Internal Revenue Service has offered what are called low-income housing tax credits. To qualify, a developer must guarantee either that 20 percent of the units will be rented to households with incomes 50 percent or less than the area median, or that 40 percent of the units will be rented to households with incomes 60 percent or less than the area median. (This is, obviously, a simplification for illustrative purposes.) The developer sells these credits to investors who use them to lower their federal tax liability, dollar for dollar.

The Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, a nonprofit bank consortium, was founded in 1990 principally to attract large-scale investment using low-income housing tax credits. Not much later, it joined forces with Malone and helped finance Nos. 34-36, as well as more ambitious projects at Old Ann Page Way and Hensche Lane. (His other two projects on Conwell are No. 27A and No. 27B.)

This project includes two mixed-use buildings, virtually twins, that were designed by [Architect?]. Between them are four one-bedroom apartments, one of which is set aside as affordable housing; six artists’ work spaces (not including the art studio that’s appended to one of the apartments); and two commercial office spaces. Construction began in 2003 and all the condo units had sold by the fall of 2006.

 

 

In September 2012, Helping Our Women moved into 34 Conwell. This nonprofit organization, founded in 1993, provides direct services to women suffering from chronic illness, disabilities or life-threatening conditions, including AIDS, cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, pulmonary difficulties and mental illness. Irene Rabinowitz, a former town moderator who once worked at the Provincetown AIDS Support Group, is the executive director.

HOW offers its clients, many of whom are poor, up to $55 a month in direct cash assistance to help them meet medical and other health-related expenses. HOW volunteers drive clients to medical appointments as far away as Boston. And the organization also sponsors a weekly support group at St. Mary of the Harbor. The move from a downtown office at 336 Commercial Street was occasioned by the need for a space that afforded clients more privacy — and better parking.

The nucleus of HOW can be traced to the friends of Jennifer K. Shakespeare (±1950-1992), an architect and consultant to the program This Old House, who was dying of lung cancer in 1992. They realized that there were no coordinated services available for someone in her dire straits. They began by helping their friend. Soon, they were helping 20 or 30 clients. Now they help more than 90 clients a month.

Assessor’s Online Database, No. 34, Unit 1 • Assessor’s Online Database, No. 34, Unit 2 • Assessor’s Online Database, No. 34, Unit 3 • Assessor’s Online Database, No. 34, Unit 4 • Assessor’s Online Database, No. 34, Unit 5 • Assessor’s Online Database, No. 34, Unit 34 • Assessor’s Online Database, No. 36, Unit 1 • Assessor’s Online Database, No. 36, Unit 2 • Assessor’s Online Database, No. 36, Unit 3 • Assessor’s Online Database, No. 36, Unit 4 • Assessor’s Online Database, No. 36, Unit 5 • Assessor’s Online Database, No. 36, Unit 36 ¶ Posted 2012-11-12

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