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Spring Shuffle Has Become an Anxious Scramble

By Elias Duncan, as seen in the Provincetown Independent

Keeping the faith during Provincetown’s annual housing shift

Time is running out for Borislav Ivanov and his family. On May 15, the lease expires on the Commercial Street apartment where he, his wife, Iliana, and their three-year-old son have lived since October.

Despite months of searching, the Ivanovs have yet to find another rental — either seasonal or year-round. They are among many such searchers.

Borislav Ivanov, who works at the Fudge Factory, has until May 15 to find a new place to live for himself, his wife, and their three-year-old son. (Photos by Elias Duncan)

This shuffle is nothing new on the Outer Cape: Every April and May, as owners prepare their properties for the summer, many locals who don’t own a home and haven’t secured a year-round rental scramble for summer spots before their winter leases expire.

What’s different is that more and more of the transitions are necessary because owners are switching to short-term rentals, so that lower-priced long-term winter leases become short-term, priced at a premium. As a result, the number of people unable to find housing for the season, not to mention year-round, appears to have reached an all-time high.

“Compared to past seasons, it seems there are more folks looking, with fewer units becoming available,” said Mackenzie Perry, deputy housing director for Provincetown. Perry said she has also noticed that when lease extensions are offered, the increased monthly rent for the summer is more often far beyond the tenants’ ability to pay.

The Ivanovs pay $2,000 a month to rent their East End two-bedroom apartment during the off-season. The same place is listed on Airbnb during peak summer weeks for $400 to $500 a night, far exceeding the family’s rent budget.

“We have no time,” Ivanov said anxiously as he sorted chocolate peanut butter cups at the Fudge Factory, where he works. Iliana used to work at the Fudge Factory and for the Dolphin Fleet but now stays home with their son.

The pair are debating whether to spend their savings to get through the summer or move back to Bulgaria for the summer, returning to Provincetown in the fall when rents are cheaper.

Ivanov began working summers in Provincetown on a J-1 student visa in 2013. He and Iliana got married in 2018, and both secured green cards — permanent resident status — through the State Dept.’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Program lottery. They settled in Provincetown in 2021.

“It’s been a harder year for locals than ever before,” said Ann Wood, the Provincetown community support liaison for the Homeless Prevention Council (HPC), a nonprofit that connects people to housing resources and has a rental assistance program. Rising winter rents are displacing residents during the colder months, too, Wood said: “It’s not really cheap in the winter anymore. Everything is too expensive.”

Dan McKeon, who runs a Facebook group called “Seeking Provincetown Rentals,” has a reputation around town as a housing matchmaker. The group has 3,000 members and is seen as a place for potential tenants and landlords to connect. But right now, McKeon said, at least 150 people on his page are still seeking housing in Provincetown for the summer. “Many have had jobs lined up for a while now, but with nowhere to live will be forced to give up those positions,” he said. “This season has been the worst ever.”

Brendan Switzer, a pharmacist technician at Outer Cape Health Services, is searching for a single bedroom for the summer or year-round. He said Facebook pages like McKeon’s can be helpful, but the competition for affordable seasonal and year-round rentals is discouraging.

housing crisis
Brendan Switzer, a pharmacist technician at Outer Cape Health Services, is searching for a bedroom - or even just a bed.

“The moment a listing goes up, I reach out immediately, but it’s usually too late; the place is already rented or there’s some stipulation,” usually upfront rent requirements, Switzer said. “It feels like I’m just one of thousands of people all looking for the same thing.”

witzer isn’t being picky. “I just need a place to rest my head and keep two drawers of clothes and my computer,” he said. His budget of $1,200 a month has made it difficult to find anything, even just a bed. “Anytime I come across something that seems affordable, I realize it’s the price for a week.”

Taylor Dean, an artist and server at the Governor Bradford in Provincetown, said she struggles to find an affordable summer rental every spring. She needs to vacate her West End apartment by May 1; she has yet to find a place to live.

Taylor Dean, who works at the Governor Bradford, says she struggles to find an affordable summer rental every spring. This year, she has not had success yet.

“It’s really stressful not to know where you’re going be next week,” said Dean. Like Switzer, Dean searches Facebook groups and realty websites for listings.

“The most affordable option I’ve come across is a studio cottage in Truro with a kitchenette for $11,000 for the season,” Dean said. She also found a two-bedroom trailer in one of the campsites in Truro for $20,000 from May to September. She would have to factor in paying for storage for the things that wouldn’t fit into that space, she said. Split with another person, the $4,000 a month rent might be manageable for someone — but not for her.

For renters with families or pets, finding a place to live is even more daunting. “For one person, it’s easier,” said Ivanov. “You can get a room or a bed somewhere, but for a family here, the chances are zero.”

James Cerne and Ian Futterer also failed in their winter-long housing search. With a May 1 move-out date looming at their winter rental in the East End and no other options, the couple decided to buy a used 31-foot Silverton motorboat, moor it in Provincetown Harbor, and live on it with their dog, Desa, for the summer. Preparing to downsize, they’ve put most of their belongings in a storage unit in Plymouth.

housing crisis cape cod
James Cerne and Ian Futterer in their winter apartment. The pair gave up on finding a summer place and have bought a used boat to live on.

“We were getting closer and closer to the time, and we were getting stressed out,” said Cerne. “That’s what got us to the point where we were like, well, we need to think outside the box.”

Cerne, a writer and DJ at the Gifford House, moved from Los Angeles to Provincetown in 2021. Last October, Futterer, an HVAC technician, relocated from Minnesota to join him. The couple said they scoured Facebook, Craigslist, and real estate listings over the winter for a year-round or summer apartment that fit their budget and would allow a pet but found nothing. Their backup plan was to buy a camper and park at the Coastal Acres Campground in town. That was before they learned there’s been a waitlist for camper spots there since 2019.

“We kept inching our budget up more and more until we got to the point where we were eventually considering spending over 50 percent of our income on rent,” said Futterer “We were willing to pay up to $4,000 a month and still couldn’t find a one-bedroom or even a studio.”

Cerne and Futterer said they’re not ready to move away from the town’s creative energy and inclusiveness of LGBTQ people that drew them here and make them feel safe. “We love it here, and we can’t imagine at this time in our lives wanting to be anyplace else,” said Cerne.

No Quick Fixes

Despite town government efforts to mitigate the effects of the short-term rental boom that’s become easy to manage at a distance with internet-based go-betweens like Airbnb and Vrbo, it’s clear that demand for affordable rentals in Provincetown far outpaces supply, especially in summer.

Mackenzie Perry
Mackenzie Perry, deputy housing director for Provincetown, helped organize the town’s new “Lease to Locals” initiative.

At a special town meeting last October, Provincetown voters passed a general bylaw amendment to limit the number of short-term rental certificates to two per property owner. But before the town can enforce the new regulation, the state’s attorney general must review and sign off on the bylaw. That finally happened on April 22 — too late to make a difference for this season.

Town hall’s latest housing initiative, launched earlier this month, is the Lease to Locals Pilot Program. It aims to increase year-round housing stock by offering property owners cash incentives of up to $20,000 to convert their short-term rental properties into year-round rentals.

The town partnered with a company called Placemate, a long-term rental platform founded by a former marketing director at Airbnb to facilitate these kinds of renter-landlord arrangements in resort communities.

The goal, said Perry, is to “increase our naturally occurring year-round housing stock.” She said the town is expecting to have incentives available for eligible property owners throughout the pilot year.

So far, some landlords and tenants have used Placemate to approach the town with prearranged agreements to start year-round leases together. But since the program’s launch on April 1, Perry confirmed, there has been only one apartment listed on the Placemate platform for Provincetown: a one-bedroom unit for $2,200 that was rented within a week of being posted.

That doesn’t bode well for prospective tenants like Switzer and Ivanov, who said they check the Placemate website daily for new listings.

“Every morning, I check Placemate and there’s nothing there,” said Switzer, adding, “I’ve been keeping the faith, and this program is the first really positive thing that’s happened in my search so far.”

For Ivanov, while the Lease to Locals initiative sounds encouraging, it hasn’t alleviated the pressure he’s under to find a new home for his family by May 15.

“I think about this every day,” he said. “It’s driving me crazy.”

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