“I’m looking for a two-bedroom apartment in Great Barrington. Could you please tell me more about these apartments and how I apply? I am not looking for Section 8 housing, just looking for a place I can afford. I was born and raised here in Great Barrington and I have two jobs. I am not able to afford housing in Great Barrington and I find it sad.”
Sad? Or unconscionable? I am executive director of the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire, and this was an email I received today from a manager in a very well established Berkshire County business, inquiring about Construct, Inc.’s new Forest Springs affordable housing project in Great Barrington – eleven new apartments to be completed in 2018 for which the CDC managed the design process and secured $3 million in funding. This is a manager in a good company, which means you can kiss goodbye any stereotype you may have of who’s looking to rent affordable housing in the Berkshires!
What makes the Berkshires such a spectacular place to visit and live – beautiful natural landscapes, rolling farms progressively organic, world class visual and performing arts, excellent schools, a world destination in culinary arts – will also be its death knell in the long run if we don’t figure out how to house the working families that make our economies and communities work.
A little perspective:
- Roughly 50% of Great Barrington residents are “housing-cost burdened” – that is, paying more than a third of their income on housing. Half (!) the people one meets on the street and in our local businesses are “house poor,” bringing stress and instability to the rest of their lives. This has tremendous impact on our children, affecting their health, environmental safety and their ability to excel in school.
- The 2016 median sales price of a house in Great Barrington was $354,000; the median income in Great Barrington for a family of four was $69,000. Our middle-schoolers can do the mortgage math; it’s not pretty. A family would need to make about 70% more than the median income to afford the median priced home.
Other South County towns do a little better or a little worse than Great Barrington, depending on their economic base and their appeal to the vacation and second home market – Lee does a little better, Lenox and Stockbridge, a little worse. But the general picture is the same: We are progressively pricing real people with real jobs out of the region, losing our youth and the young families that are our future.
The bad news is that the market will never address this problem. If it could, developers would be building apartment complexes and starter homes across the county. There is no better example of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand of the Market” needing a major helping hand. The good news is that we have several nonprofit developers that are tenaciously chipping away at the inequality: Construct, Inc., Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, and my organization the CDC of South Berkshire.
The bad news is that federal funds for the development of affordable housing are in a tailspin given our current national political reality. The good news is that, regionally, we have great wealth and creativity to draw upon. In this way, we are a microcosm of our country as a whole – tremendous wealth, creativity and brainpower, desperately searching for the political will to bring equity and justice to our housing and economic quality of life.