Running Out of Room

More than three-quarters of Cape Cod’s housing stock was built between the 1950s and 2000s. During that time, home and lot size steadily increased, nearly doubling between the 1950s and the 2000s. The homes built were predominantly (over 80%) single-family homes. In the 1950s, the median single-family home size was 1,200 square feet. It increased to 1,680 by the 1980s, and by the 2000s, the median single-family home size was nearly 2,400 square feet. Over the same period, the median lot size increased from about a quarter acre to half an acre.

Though the increase in home and lot size has leveled off somewhat in the past couple of decades, they are still much larger than those homes built in the middle of the 20th century. As new homes are larger and utilize more resources, these increasingly inefficient building patterns are unsustainable on a peninsula with critical natural resources and limited land for new development.

Smaller building forms are compatible with the Cape’s early traditions, including the popular Cape Cod House form, which ranged in size from approximately 800-square-foot Half-Cape forms and 1,000-square-foot Three-Quarter-Cape forms to roughly 1,300-square-foot Full-Cape forms. With adequate infrastructure, smaller and more compact units of housing, such as duplexes, apartments, or even converting larger homes into multiple units, will not only minimize development impacts and utilize land more efficiently but will help alleviate housing affordability challenges by providing a greater diversity of housing sizes and types.

Use the dashboard below to examine the patterns across the region and across times of home size, age, and type.

Using assessors’ data, the region’s residential properties were analyzed and categorized into 13 different housing types within three broader categories of single-family, multifamily, and other.1  Across the region, nearly 80% of properties fall into the single-family category, about 18% are in multifamily, and the remaining in other. Similar distributions of properties are seen across most towns, except Provincetown, which has a majority of multifamily properties (over 70%), with nearly 60% of residential properties being categorized as condos. The next highest town in terms of percentage of multifamily properties was Mashpee at nearly 30%.

The exponential increase in the region’s popularity as a seasonal and retiree destination in the latter half of the 1900s is borne out in the building patterns of the region’s homes. Based on this data and analysis, less than 5% of residential properties in the region were built before 1900 and only about 12% have been built in this century. Nearly three-quarters of residential properties have a year-built date of 1950-1999, with almost 50% having a year-built date of 1970-1999.2

Between the 1950s and the 2000s, home and lot size steadily increased, nearly doubling, and the homes built were predominantly (over 80%) single-family homes. The median residential area for properties before the 1900s is also noticeably larger than in the mid-20th century. However, the majority of historic properties began as much smaller structures, typically under 1,000 square feet.  Many have been added to over the years, often including large additions made in the late 20th century or early 21st century that significantly increased their residential area.

Learn more about housing typologies: Housing Types

1. The number of residential properties does not necessarily correlate exactly to the number of housing units as some properties that would have more than one home, such as apartments, compounds, or condos, did not always have the actual number of housing units at that property listed in the assessing data. In those cases, an estimated number of units was used but this is likely an undercount of total housing units.

2. Year built data is based on current assessing records from the 15 individual towns. In some cases, the date may not reflect the first year a parcel went into development, but subsequent significant redevelopment. This may explain why some towns have much fewer residential properties compared to the region or other towns.