Remarks at Affordable Housing Announcement June 20, 2013

Thank you for coming this afternoon to share in this wonderful moment.

It comes at a time of acute need in our community. The recent study by John Ryan confirmed the longstanding sense that Williamstown lacks sufficient housing that is affordable for a significant number of our neighbors.

That was the case even before Tropical Storm Irene made the situation suddenly and dramatically worse. In one day, almost five percent of our town’s non-student population lost their homes. Almost two years later, only a fraction of them have been able to return, to a situation that is welcome but temporary.

That devastation gave new urgency to ongoing efforts to increase the town’s affordable housing stock. But as some members of the community knew all along, and all of us certainly know now, such projects are highly complicated.

So our hats are off to all those who have been working, and will continue to work, on public efforts to address the need for affordable housing, while we happily announce today the launching of a complementary, privately organized project—one that has the benefits of a strong site and a development team that is both deeply grounded in our community and experienced in producing and managing well designed and effective housing that is affordable.

Let me describe briefly how we got here.

The newly formed nonprofit Higher Ground approached the college about the availability for affordable housing of a parcel of college-owned land, shown in your handout, that abuts Proprietor’s Field. That elderly affordable housing complex was built in the 1970s on what also had been college land. So successful has it been that to live there, or for a loved one to live there, requires a wait of several years.

A consultant, hired by the college, confirmed that this parcel is uniquely suited for affordable housing. It not only abuts affordable housing, but is clean, in town, on a public bus route, and near the senior center, for one set of potential residents, and across the street from the elementary school, for another.

So well-suited is this land for affordable housing, that the college, with the approval of the Board of Trustees, has decided to donate it to this project. [Acknowledge any board members in attendance.]

To ensure that it would be a strong development team that brought the project to fruition, we sent a request for preliminary proposals to five non-profit organizations. From the responses, we chose the team represented here today.

It consists of four organizations that decided to partner together. They are Higher Ground, the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development, the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, and the Williamstown Elderly Housing Corporation.

Together this group brings considerable experience and deep ties to our community. The Berkshire Housing Development Corporation has developed affordable housing throughout the county. It’s the entity that developed and now manages Proprietor’s Field. The Women’s Institute has developed affordable housing throughout the region. Both groups have long been committed to designing projects that are environmentally sustainable as well as being responsive to their communities and sensitive to their neighborhoods. Higher Ground and the Williamstown Elderly Housing Corporation are in a strong position to help organize community input to the process that will now begin.

No single project could meet 100 percent of the community’s affordable housing need, nor could it suit all of the understandable wishes of current and former residents of The Spruces. But with this wonderfully well-suited land and with this experienced and well-representative team, we can as a community take satisfaction in the fact that, to complement the public efforts underway, we have taken as of today an important step toward addressing this communal need.

Adam Falk