Real Estate Market Perspectives

The Dark Side of the Local Housing Market: Finding a house you can afford

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By Friday, Jun 30  8 Comments More In Real Estate
Rendering by Studio One Architects
The latest entry into the affordable housing market in the Berkshires, Forest Springs in Great Barrington, scheduled for completion in 2018 by Construct, Inc.

“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!

Hillside Avenue, Great Barrington – 10 rental units owned and developed by the CDC of South Berkshire. - Photo Credit: Tim Geller

Hillside Avenue, Great Barrington – 10 rental units owned and developed by the CDC of South Berkshire. – Photo Credit: Tim Geller

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.

Pinewoods, Stockbridge – 30 rental units, developed by Construct, Inc., with the CDC of South Berkshire, owned and managed by Construct. - Photo credit: Tim Geller

Pinewoods, Stockbridge – 30 rental units, developed by Construct, Inc., with the CDC of South Berkshire, owned and managed by Construct. – Photo credit: Tim Geller

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.

Still on the drawing boards, Bentley Apartments, proposed for 100 Bridge Street, Great Barrington – 45 new affordable apartments to be developed and owned by the CDC of South Berkshire Credit: Rendering by Dietz and Company, Architects

Still on the drawing boards, Bentley Apartments, proposed for 100 Bridge Street, Great Barrington – 45 new affordable apartments to be developed and owned by the CDC of South Berkshire
Credit: Rendering by Dietz and Company, Architects


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8 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Steve Farina says:

    Tim, I just want to commend you for the efforts you have put into the Affordable Housing issue for years. While there are a number of us who don’t always agree with how some of the plans play out, the fact is you are out there making a difference (along with the others you mention). Thank you for that!
    And, thank you for writing this article which helps keep this crucial issue out in front of people.

  2. Patrick Fennell says:

    Right now a lot of real estate is for sale, a buyer’s market no less, a few ready to rent apartment houses. This said because of government and bureaucracy they can not be bought at reasonable prices and used right away. One of the biggest problems affordable housing is government, it forces landlords to go through hoops, is costly, toss in high property taxes the town throws in and all of a sudden affordable becomes costly. Sadly government gets in the way of progress and hurts the working class once again.

  3. mary says:

    Unfortunately, unless you are a single mother on welfare with a boatload of kids, there will be no affordable housing for you.

    1. Shawn G. says:

      Mary- that is absurd. We have no kids; we found affordable housing in GB.

  4. Shawn G. says:

    Tim- I support your work and I am a progressive.
    But it seems to me that your numbers don’t add up.
    You said the median annual income is $69,000. Divide by 12 and multiply by 33%: The median family has $1900 available for housing.
    A $354,000 home (the median home price) at 3.5% interest rate requires a monthly payment of $1600.
    According to the MLS, there are 250 homes in South County that cost under $354,000.

    1. Ilene says:

      I am not an expert, but I believe the formula is based on take-home income, not before-tax income. And I think it includes property and mortgage taxes as expenses to be rolled up into the house payment numbers as well.

      1. Shawn G. says:

        Thank you Ilene. I haven’t run those numbers, but I sense that those #s would still yield a large number (perhaps 150) of affordable homes. (according to the 33% criteria)

  5. Christopher Blair says:

    Tim,
    Thanks for the good work. Affordable housing at all levels is an important idea. Sadly, as you said, the development community cannot build fast enough or compete with the profitability of an expensive home. The escalation of housing cost here in the last 50 years is wild.

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