After decades of waiting, construction is underway on a new affordable housing project in downtown Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
The nearly $18 million Bentley Apartments project is located at 100 Bridge Street in the Southern Berkshire town of around 7,000.
“This is an incredible site," said Tim Geller, Executive Director of the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire. "It has the capacity for these 45 units plus some commercial plus a 1 acre riverfront public access park and the whole idea is to build housing – specifically affording housing – that is walkable to jobs, shopping, all the cultural amenities of Great Barrington.”
The corporation acquired the property in 1999, but a host of issues plagued the site. In addition to concerns about its location as a riverfront property on a floodplain, the soil required remediation.
“It’s an 8 acre previously industrial site, going back to the 19th century," said Geller. "It was originally a textile mill. In the 1970s, the New England Log Homes factory was created there, and the wood preservatives from that factory are a large part of the contamination of the site – dioxins and PCPs, pentachlorophenols.”
The project comes at a critical time for the community. Geller describes housing opportunities in the region as “impossible” for working people.
“Well in South County we have a pincer movement on the housing front," he explained to WAMC. "You have progressively a tourist-based economy, service-based economy with low wage paying jobs with no benefits, and increasingly high second home market and vacation home market pressure on real estate costs – so you have lower wage paying jobs and higher real estate costs. You combine those two and you put yourself right in the center of South County.”
Geller says he expects the 1 to 3 bedroom family units will house around 100 to 150 people, and that 40% of Great Barrington residents will qualify for the housing. Rents on the units will not exceed 30% of tenants’ income.
“This is housing for the people who make Great Barrington and South County run, day in, day out,” said Geller.
The location of the project is also part of the CDCSB’s larger plan for affordable housing in the region.
“Develop the town centers, saving our farm lands and our open space,” Geller said.
The CDCSB received assistance from the county’s largest housing authority, Berkshire Housing Development Corporation. President Elton Ogden says it contributed its comparatively larger staff and experience navigating funding sources to the project.
“We have $8.7 million of equity from federal tax credits, so that’s private equity that is put into the deal in return for an allocation of tax credits, and then there are $2.9 million of state low income housing tax credit investment as well,” Ogden told WAMC.
An array of deferred loans from state programs related to the affordable housing bond bill also contributed to the financing.
“We have roughly $950,000 from housing for special needs population, so there’s a set aside of units for folks that have disabilities,” said Ogden.
Town planner Chris Rembold says Great Barrington forgave around $300,000 in back taxes from the site’s previous owner to facilitate the CDCSB’s acquisition back in the 90’s.
“The town has also contributed grant funds through the Community Preservation Act towards the creation of the affordable housing units, and that is a total of, I believe, $450,000, and the town has contributed funds towards the creation of riverfront open space along the Housatonic River," said Rembold. "That’s being done now as part of the site remediation, and that grant for the open space was $300,000.”
Rembold says several infrastructure improvements will accompany the project.
“This spring and summer we will be repaving the roads, installing new sidewalks, and the water main on Bridge Street will also be replaced,” he told WAMC.
Geller says the CDCSB has another Great Barrington project in the works as well.
“We also have a 49 unit project that’s going into financing on South Main Street, so just between those two projects we’ll have close to 100 new units of affordable units for people who can actually walk to work,” he said.
Construction on the Bentley Apartments is expected to continue into winter 2021, with leasing beginning the following spring and occupation as early as the summer.