Housing FAQs

1) What is the definition of affordable/attainable housing? 

Generally the term “affordable housing” means housing that is affordable to a household with low- and moderate-income, spending no more than 30% of household income on housing-related costs, including rent and utilities for a rented housing unit, or mortgage, taxes, insurance, and utilities for a homeowner.  
For purposes of most housing subsidy programs funded or financed by the federal government, affordable means income levels that are at or below 60% or 80% of area median income (AMI) for a geographical area -- depending on the particular program.  This income level varies by the size of the household.  This is set annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  
The 2022 affordable household income levels for Barnstable County, by housing size, are set forth in a table included in the attached explanation.  “Community housing,” for which State Community Preservation Act funding can be expended qualifies for up to 100% of AMI.   

2) What is meant by “workforce housing”? 

The term ‘workforce housing” is used in a number of ways that can be misleading.  Generally it can mean any housing occupied by persons who make their living through earnings from employment, which applies to the full range of income levels.  Some workforce housing programs target households with incomes ranging from 60% or 80% of area median income (AMI) to 120% of AMI.  
The term can be misleading -- some would say even insulting -- because many earners in households with incomes below 60% or 80% of AMI are part of the workforce.  
Apart from the issue of the term itself, “workforce housing" often refers to housing for persons who are just above the income limits for federal or State affordable housing programs, but who are struggling to find housing in the private market.  Who is included varies by location and the dynamics of the housing market at any particular time.
Generally public funding for “workforce housing” is more limited than for affordable housing.  While that is the case in Massachusetts, there is one program offered by the Department of Housing and Community Development called the Workforce Housing Initiative, which includes more than $100 million in its Workforce Housing fund, which supports the creation of rental housing that is affordable for households whose incomes are too high for subsidized housing but are priced out by market rents. The program supports housing with rents affordable to individuals and families with incomes generally between 60% and 120% of Area Median Income (AMI) and provides up to $100,000 of subsidy per workforce housing unit.  Such a program by itself, however, cannot match the multiple sources of funding available for affordable housing.

3) What is missing middle housing? 

Another term sometimes used to describe housing for households with incomes above federal income limits but who are finding it difficult to afford housing on the private market is “missing middle” housing. Actually, the term was coined by Opticos Design founder Daniel Parolek in 2010 to define a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types -- compatible in scale with detached single-family homes -- located in walkable neighborhoods, which help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living. (See website: https://missingmiddlehousing.com/) This term may be used without regard to the income of the households occupying the housing.

missing middle housing

“Missing middle” is a commonly-used term that refers to the range of housing types that fit between single-family detached homes and mid-to-high-rise apartment buildings. Examples include duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, and more. Used in this context, “middle” references the size and type of a home, relative to its location – in the middle – on a housing scale spectrum. The cost of these homes vary based on style, size, location, and market forces; therefore missing middle housing types do not correlate with a specific income bracket.

There are many benefits to this style of housing. Missing middle homes can:

  • Bridge between low- and high-density areas
  • Support walkable neighborhoods and locate enough residents nearby needed to support neighborhood retail and transit options
  • Appeal to a broader range of residents and meet the needs of a more diverse and inclusive cross-section of our community, such as:
    • Young adults, who are just starting their careers
    • Growing families who may need an additional bedroom for a child, or, an on-site dwelling unit for a grandparent
    • Older adults who wish to age in their same community, near family and friends
    • Empty nesters who wish to downsize
    • Public servants in search of mid-scale homes, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters

4) What do all these terms used to discuss affordable housing mean?

There are a number of glossaries of affordable housing terms that can help people understand many of the terms used.  The private non-profit organization Shelterforce has published one such guide as part of their series “The Answer” called “What Do All These Affordable Housing Terms Mean?”  
The State’s Housing Tool Box, put out by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community, contains a Glossary of Affordable Housing Terms.  
The Town of Orleans’ comprehensive study of housing needs in the Town includes another Glossary of Housing Terms in Appendix 3, page 143.

5) If I am looking for help finding affordable housing, where can I go? 

Check out the website section on Affordable Housing Resources on Cape Cod for some organizations and links to help you.  

6) How do I learn more about affordable housing in Orleans? 

Check out the website section on Affordable Housing Documents and Presentations.

7) What are the basic facts about housing and housing affordability in Orleans?

 A summary can be found Housing Profile: Orleans, produced by the Cape Cod Commission. Housing profiles for the County as a whole as well as other towns on the Cape can be found here.