The town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts has approved a plan to build 14 to 20 affordable housing units in the village of Housatonic.
At Wednesday night’s virtual Affordable Housing Trust Fund meeting, the green light was given to Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity to pursue the project on North Plain Road. Trust Chair Bill Cooke applauded Habitat CEO Carolyn Valli after the unanimous vote.
“Congratulations, Carolyn!” said Cooke.
“Thank you very much,” responded Valli. “We're ready to start planning. We actually, on Thursday, we're starting to put together our South County Housatonic Planning Committee. So if anybody that's on the line right now who’s interested in joining a committee please feel free to reach out to me because we would love to have you.”
Cooke told WAMC that the trust was impressed with the project.
“Well, the idea that we can have affordable homeownership in Great Barrington for ordinary working people is pretty terrific, I think," he said. "Habitat has a great program, and essentially, they work with people and build the house to suit the household. You know, they just have a great program bringing people into homeownership.”
Affordable housing is in dire need in Southern Berkshire County, where the cost of owning a home has only continued to climb in recent years. Advocates have described the situation as in crisis.
Cooke says the project was initially met with skepticism from some town residents.
“Well, I think the concern in the neighborhood was that it was going to be a big, you know, 40 or 50, maybe even 60 units of, you know, affordable rental housing," he explained. "And I think it was sort of equated with low income housing. And it really — We basically listened to the neighbors when they said they didn't want that. And Habitat was just a great choice, because it's homeownership. And all of the potential homebuyers are going to be really vetted by Habitat, and they're going to work with them. And the people that are going to be owning these homes actually have to put in, I think, 600 hours of their own labor into the homes too. So these are people that are going to be really invested in the community. They're here for the long haul. This is, I think, going to be a great addition to town.”
“One of the things that we heard very loud and clear, is that there's a number of rental projects going in in Great Barrington, which is helpful, but there was no homeownership opportunities. And Housatonic is really a homegrown community, and they would like to have more homeowners live there and become permanent fixtures in the community and to build a great community together," said Valli. “It’s going to be a development that really fits into the neighborhood. And it's an eclectic neighborhood there. A lot of variety of homes: Ranches, raised ranches, bungalows, all kinds of diverse housing.”
The Housatonic community will be Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity’s largest undertaking to date.
“It’ll be built around having some common space, a lot of greenery, a lot of ability to commune with nature," said Valli. "It's seven and a half acres, so we're going to be doing it as a cluster around a common green, and it'll be over three phases. So different houses will come on over the next six to seven years, I would imagine. So we're not going to jump in and build 20 houses in a year. It's not the way habitat works. And it'll help transition the neighborhood to have this influx of new homeowners.”
Habitat expects construction to begin in 2022.
“The big milestone that we'll be looking at first is achieving a MassWorks grant with the town of Great Barrington to provide the infrastructure for the water, the septic, and the roadways," said the CEO. "So that'll be the first hurdle. We're hoping that the MassWorks grant opens this year, so that we are able to apply where come the following spring, we would be able to break ground.”