ANALYSIS: The short-term rental debate: A Reason Gone Mad series (Part 3)

Sometimes lost in the conversation is that it’s not only service-industry workers caught in the housing-market vise. Even those earning substantial salaries, such as doctors and nurses, today face extremely high costs for housing in the region.

(To read the other parts in this series, see Part 1 and Part 2.)

GREAT BARRINGTON — When I spoke this week to Richard Stanley, the longtime Berkshires real-estate developer and owner of The Triplex movie theater in Great Barrington, about the local housing crunch and its many effects, he staked out a position you’re not likely to hear from anyone else.

“If you want to look for someone to blame for where we are today, you can start with me,” he said cheekily, pointing to his development of The Triplex more than a quarter-century ago, in 1995, and the downtown economic revitalization that followed.

While the community eventually came to embrace the project, not everyone did at the start. In the end, though, as Stanley told a group gathered to celebrate the Triplex’s 20th anniversary in 2015, “This is the result of what happens when a community has a shared vision and acts on it.”

Richard Stanley. Photo: Terry Cowgill

After relocating to the Berkshires in the late 1980s and launching a second career in real estate, Stanley purchased the historic Barrington House building on Main Street, not long after acquiring his first multifamily property on Mahaiwe Street. As he began to make renovations and improvements, he said that filling his rental apartments was slow going. He told me that at the time, his wife, a real-estate agent, often fielded calls from people looking for a second home in the Berkshires “who would mention every town except Great Barrington.” But in the years after the movie theater opened, he said, “the complexion of the town started to change.”

The nature, impact, and ongoing reaction to that change has been in the ether surrounding the debate about whether Great Barrington should regulate short-term rentals (STRs), which, along with related housing issues, is the subject of this column series. For this installment, I sought out a range of perspectives on local housing writ large, stepping, if not entirely away from the STR debate, then at least into the basket of issues that sits adjacent to it. I wanted to learn more about the ways that rising home and rental prices are rippling through the community and share more viewpoints about what’s being done — or could be done — by those who are already working hard to address a complex problem.

As for the “complexion of the town,” which has inarguably been changed by the people and wealth that have flowed into Great Barrington over the last few decades, the specifics of what’s changed and what it means going forward have not been discussed with specificity during the STR debate. As noted earlier in this series, that includes a changed downtown now filled with restaurants and shops unaffordable to many who live and work here, as it shifts even more to provide amenities and services for tourists and part-time residents. That powerful undercurrent — depending on who you talk to — of unease, frustration, substantial financial windfall, blithe acceptance, or something not fully articulated, has likely contributed to the rancor and acrimony that was largely absent when nearby towns like Stockbridge and Lenox debated and implemented their own STR regulations.

And that raises an urgent question, sparked by Stanley’s description of why the Triplex project succeeded: Today, in 2022, is there a widely embraced “shared vision” for Great Barrington? Or is the town being buffeted by broader economic forces and financial interests that are untethered from local governance and the community’s ability to influence or control them?

That undercurrent was at least partially in evidence earlier this week when the selectboard heard from people on both sides of the STR debate before finally, after a long and confusing process that began last September, voted to put a bylaw limiting STRs before the June 6 town meeting. It happened after months of debate, weeks of uncertainty, and ultimately a ruling from the State Ethics Commission that enabled the board to complete its work.

The selectboard’s bylaw limits property owners to a single short-term rental. They may rent up to two bedrooms in a house where they reside, with no caps, or rent an entire property where they don’t reside, like a second home, for up to 150 days per year — a total that excludes any rentals of a month or longer. Property owned by corporations (other than LLCs) may not be offered as short-term rentals and all STRs must register with the town and meet various health and safety requirements. (Currently, STRs in Great Barrington are only required by law to register with the Commonwealth.)

Leigh Davis. Photo provided

Spearheaded by selectboard member Leigh Davis, the proposal moved forward on Monday night only after the removal of an earlier draft’s exemption clause that would have allowed property owners with multiple STRs as of January 1, 2022 to continue to rent them all, despite the bylaw’s limit of one. (It’s unclear how many owners and properties fall into that category.)

The State Ethics Commission, which in nearly all cases provides its legal advice to towns and municipal officials confidentially, presumably told Town Counsel David Doneski that removing the clause would eliminate Davis’ alleged conflict by making the proposal a matter of “general policy” impacting more than 10 percent of residents. Indeed, based on a Disclosure of Appearance of Conflict of Interest form filed on May 30 by Davis, which referenced the legal advice of the commission and also the 10-percent rule, that appears to be the case. (At town meeting, any voter can make a motion to add such an exemption clause to the bylaw.)

Prior to the final vote, selectboard member Ed Abrahams continued his criticism of the proposed bylaw. “I don’t think we’re getting answers to questions,” he said, focusing his skepticism, as he has for months, on the purpose and effect of the regulation, how much it might reduce short-term-rental tax revenue to the town, and the impact on those who say they need STR income to afford their mortgage and taxes or who plan to rely on it during retirement.

Ed Abrahams. Photo provided

Abrahams, whose fiancée lives with him and rents a house she owns in Housatonic on Airbnb, has said for months that the board should focus on other housing proposals he says will have more impact, including those he outlined at a selectboard meeting in late February: Incentivizing landlords to do long-term rentals via tax breaks and stipends; promoting, via tax incentives, the construction of accessory-dwelling units (ADU) for use as year-round rental housing; and new financing via town-issued bonds to help developers with construction costs. He told me that he assembled these ideas with Planning Board member Pedro Pachano, a local architect who has also been skeptical of the need for strict STR limits, and Town Planner Chris Rembold.

For her part, at the conclusion of the debate Davis summarized her argument to create “guardrails” to protect Great Barrington from being overrun by those who would convert more housing to short-term rentals and exacerbate the problem of available housing, including little-to-no vacancies of long-term rental housing for those who want to live and work here full-time. As she told me last month, “We’re really concerned about investors who come in and see Great Barrington with a bull’s-eye on its back.” Davis also told me that she has other proposals to address housing issues that she will present soon.

After the bylaw was approved by a 3–1 vote, there was some debate about the order of items on the town-meeting warrant and whether the selectboard’s STR bylaw would be taken up near the end of the meeting, when some voters may have left, or earlier. Abrahams also wanted the alternate citizen petition STR bylaw (that as reported in Part 2 of this series, he helped to craft alongside local real-estate agents and other opponents of strict STR regulation) to appear immediately following the selectboard’s bylaw, so they could be brought up together. That bylaw, as submitted, would also ban corporations, limit owners to a single short-term rental property, mandate registration with the town, and implement basic health and safety requirements. But it would not place a cap on the number of days an STR can be rented each year.

Abrahams raised concerns about leaving the citizen petition at the traditional spot for such items at the end of the meeting. He said it might lead to a situation in which both bylaws are approved, especially if, he said, many voters go home after approving the selectboard’s STR bylaw. That would create a conflict without an obvious path to resolution; both approved bylaws might then be sent to the attorney general’s office — which must sign off on new town bylaws — to be sorted out. In the end, only the selectboard’s bylaw was moved up on the agenda.

Michael Wise
Great Barrington Town Moderator Michael Wise. Edge file photo

Of course, at town meeting any voter can make a motion to change the order of warrant items, as well as propose that both STR bylaws be considered during a single debate. As he does every year, Town Moderator Michael Wise will ultimately serve as gatekeeper and entertain, or rule as out-of-order, any such motions. Following the selectboard’s final approval of the warrant including the proposed STR bylaws, he told me, “I will study them to develop some understanding so I can rule on possible motions concerning amendment or changing the order of consideration.”

What parliamentary or other strategies may be unleashed by supporters and opponents to amend, push through, or derail the proposals remains to be seen. And after the selectboard’s long and confusing drafting process — along with the competing citizen petition that would impose different rules — it’s not yet known what efforts will be made by the town, or by supporters and opponents of the proposals, to educate voters and clear up any confusion in advance of town meeting.

It’s also an open question what short-term-rental platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo may do to influence Great Barrington voters. Samuel Randall, an Airbnb spokesperson, sent me a statement that only said the company supports nonspecific “common-sense regulation” and that “provisions such as nightcaps are unnecessary and arbitrary.”

The coming town-meeting debate will surely include whether STR limits are needed, what they will or won’t achieve, and what impact they’ll have on the region’s economy and housing crisis. With prices high for both home purchases and rentals, and little available inventory, there’s been intense focus on where those who work in Great Barrington, regardless of income, will live.

That local businesses are struggling to hire and retain workers is widely acknowledged, especially as Great Barrington heads into what could be the busiest summer season in years. Pent-up demand for Before-Times-style fun — even as the COVID-19 pandemic rages unabated, with new variants and high case counts making headlines that many seem content to ignore — may mean crowded shops and restaurants, busy hotels and vacation rentals, and the much-dreaded downtown summer traffic. But will residents, second-home owners and visitors find their experiences diminished by limited store hours or slow restaurant service because of understaffing?

Betsy Andrus speaks at Great Barrington’s 2021 town meeting. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Betsy Andrus, who has served as executive director of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce since 2012, told me this week that staffing challenges are serious, widespread, and directly related to the region’s housing challenge. She also pointed to the continuing overhang of the pandemic, with some workers fearful of COVID exposure and others deciding to pursue new careers, particularly those who previously worked in the service sector and now see better-paid opportunities in the broader, and booming, job market. That’s left South County’s tourist-economy employers struggling.

“Restaurants and small local shops that are looking for a salesclerk or dishwasher or waitstaff — we know that everywhere you go, businesses are hiring and they’re paying a pretty good dollar to capture people,” she said. “Because there are so many positions open, a lot of people are saying, ‘Why am I killing myself waiting on tables for this nominal [wage]? Why don’t I move up and work Monday through Friday, 9-to-5?”

Andrus knows that housing has become expensive — and why. “We’re so lucky to live here, it’s a beautiful place to live. Obviously, people from all over, in the past two years especially, have been driven to live here, which of course raises the price of everything [related to housing],” she said.

When I asked her about solutions, she let out an audible sigh — among many I’ve heard while working on this story. “I wish there was some magic fix for this,” she said. “Across the country, the shortage of staffing is a huge problem.” On the housing challenge that it’s tied to locally, her view is that the ability to rapidly build new housing is hamstrung by state and federal rules that often accompany funding, as well as challenges with local permitting.

Screen grab from Fuel’s Facebook page on May 10

She told me about a workforce-housing group that formed with representatives from the town and local businesses that is looking at how it might serve as a “matchmaker” between those with housing to rent and local employers and workers. She said they’ve not yet tested the waters, and that their investigations have so far found that wading into the world of landlord-tenant law could make such a program tricky.

On construction that would create housing for local workers, she said her “dream” is to find “a dozen wealthy local residents” who see the impact of the staffing gap on restaurants and other amenities they enjoy here and would make substantial investments in housing development free from requirements attached to state or federal money.

That idea reminded me of Ralph Nader’s “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us,” a clumsy-but-earnest 2009 novel that imagined a group of 17 super-wealthy Americans, led by the investor Warren Buffett, who mobilized money and action to champion the interests of citizens against those who have used their concentrated wealth only to acquire more wealth, to the detriment of people and planet. Nader’s 733-page novel – apparently there are few editors among the super-rich — features villains like “Bush Bimbaugh” and “Pawn Vanity,” which likely explains why you haven’t heard of it.

Still, the instinct of both Nader and Andrus to corral those with substantial means is understandable, given today’s economic reality and the fact that South County has residents and second-home owners who certainly qualify — and who care deeply about this problem. But it may also speak to malfunctioning democratic processes, at all levels, that fail to set priorities and allocate resources to serve the broad public interest and shared economic-development goals.

Triplex owner Stanley, who also serves as vice president of the board of the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDCSB), which develops and manages a range of affordable housing in the region and aims to partner on future workforce-housing projects, concurred with Andrus’ take on housing needs. “I’ve been very concerned about workforce housing,” he told me, even before COVID exacerbated the problem. “We know it’s depressing retail businesses and restaurants that can find help but can’t find a place for them to live. It’s a very real problem and having a very real effect on this community being able to grow,” he said.

He no doubt sees the challenge from multiple perspectives: Developer, landlord, business owner, housing nonprofit board member, and South County resident (he lives next door in Egremont). He told me that his business owns more than 140 rental units in Berkshire County, including 42 in Great Barrington and South County, and he used the language of business to explain things. “Over time it’s become a question of supply and demand. Who wants to live where, and how much are they willing to pay?” he said.

Of his own properties, Stanley told me, “If I get a vacancy, by the time the sun goes down I can get it rented.” While he said could raise rents based on current market conditions, he said that he’s long kept rents reasonable — typically under $1,000-per-month for a one-bedroom apartment — for many reasons, not least that his units often house employees of his commercial tenants. As to the proposal to limit short-term rentals, Stanley called it “complete and total noise,” echoing other critics who say short-term rentals are unrelated to the cost of housing.

Carol Bosco Baumann. Photo courtesy CDCSB

Carol Bosco Baumann, the executive director of CDCSB, told me via e-mail that while her organization builds and manages affordable housing like the new 45-unit Bentley Apartments on Bridge Street, and the under-construction, 49-unit Windrush Commons on South Main Street, many people in the area who need housing don’t qualify because their income is too high. “There are not as many funding sources [to build] workforce housing for people who earn more than 60 percent and up to 120 percent of area median income,” she said, referring to AMI, the income benchmark that, for Berkshire County excluding Pittsfield, currently stands at $44,500 for an individual and $64,000 for a family of four. (At Bentley Apartments, one-bedroom units are $709 per month, while two-bedroom apartments rent for $844 per month.)

She said CDCSB is exploring ways to help meet that need with future workforce-housing projects and is examining how other communities, including some on Cape Cod, have tackled similar issues. “We’ve all heard that businesses are short-staffed in one way or another and the results impact not only the business, but the community as well,” Bosco Baumann said. “Restaurants and stores are limiting hours. I’ve heard of managers as well as staff driving up to an hour or more each way for their daily commute.”

CDCSB’s next project at 100 Bridge Street, called Berkshire Cottages, aims to create more than 30 units for both homeownership and rental, pending the mix of funding secured, and will be available for those earning up to 100 percent of AMI. The nonprofit is seeking $350,000 at next month’s town meeting for “pre-development costs” related to the project, which would be allocated from the town’s Community Preservation Act funds.

In downtown Great Barrington, local businesses are meeting housing-fueled staffing challenges in various ways. Mark Firth, the acclaimed Brooklyn restaurateur who relocated to the Berkshires in 2010 and opened Prairie Whale in 2012, watched as key initial hires for his restaurant, including longtime chef Steve Browning, could purchase affordable homes when they moved here a decade ago. But today, housing prices would make that difficult if not impossible.

“There are only a few restaurants here,” he said, describing Great Barrington, “and the reason is because we can’t get people to move here to work because there’s nowhere for people to live.” Speaking of all local restaurants, he said, “We’re so busy that we can’t breathe. It would really help us if people could open a place and not have to worry about ‘Where’s my chef going to live?’”

Prairie Whale

Firth’s hand-lettered sign in front of Prairie Whale has long been known for a witty take on issues large and small. Not long ago, he told me, it featured a tongue-in-cheek reference to the staffing challenge: “Now Hiring Staff from Other Restaurants.”

“People see that and think you’re talking about yourself, but I’m not. I’m talking about the community in general because it’s a problem,” Firth told me. He said “we need more diversity and energy” in the local restaurant scene to handle the number of people coming here. He showered praise on recent additions including Momma Lo’s, Steam, and the new bakery across the parking lot from Prairie Whale, Pixie Boulangerie.

He said that there are other concerns as well, like people in their 20s who used to work in local restaurants but are now employed by Great Barrington’s cannabis stores. And he said he’s had longtime staff leave during COVID to pursue new career paths, tired of hospitality-industry headaches like demanding patrons. Some of his summer staff is drawn from those who worked for him in high school and, now home from college, spend the summer back at the restaurant, at least until mid-August — and who can live at home for free.

He told me that he often discusses housing with a group of local restaurateurs. Among various ideas, they’ve imagined workforce-housing developments with small affordable apartments where the only qualification is that you work in Great Barrington. “As long as you do, you can stay there,” he said. He pointed to opportunities to build new housing he said exist on the Route 7 and Route 23 arteries, near but outside of town.

Those proposals align with stories of business owners seeking to buy housing to rent to their employees, which is understandable. But that comes with complexities. For example, when someone is tied to an employer or job for housing, it can be precarious, putting workers at risk of housing insecurity or homelessness if they’re fired or otherwise leave their job, especially in a town like Great Barrington that has few rental vacancies.

Jane Ralph. Photo courtesy Construct

That housing intersects with many economic and social challenges is why solutions are complex and long-term. According to Jane Ralph, executive director of Construct, the South County nonprofit that has, for more than half a century, helped local residents with a range of services related to housing insecurity including both transitional and permanent housing, the pandemic and current housing landscape have created myriad new challenges for Construct and its clients.

“Folks who have never needed our help in the past are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck,” Ralph told me in an interview this week. Finding affordable childcare, juggling work and family when someone has COVID, and particularly rising fuel costs for both transportation and utilities have made for a challenging few years, she said. “It’s just as difficult as it was two years ago, but maybe emotionally more difficult,” she said, “because no one expected we’d still be dealing with COVID.”

Ralph provided a helpful description of who in our community qualifies for affordable housing. “When we’re talking about affordable housing, we’re talking about your cashier at Big Y, the paraprofessionals working in our schools,” she said. Anyone earning 60 percent or less of average median income qualifies for housing managed by Construct. “That’s most of the nonprofit sector, an awful lot of people who work in our healthcare system,” she said. “It’s really the backbone of much of what makes the Berkshires work. People who work at Tanglewood who are not Yo-Yo Ma, people in the gig economy we love to see at The Egremont Barn who may just be scraping by.”

Ralph calls the housing challenge “not a sprint, but very much a marathon. We need more housing options,” she said. “There are many forces making it harder to create the amount of affordable housing we need and to retain the affordable housing that we have.”

For its 77 South County affordable-housing units, Construct currently has 898 applications on its waitlist — the most ever. Fully 228 applications are from Great Barrington alone. Ralph told me that most are households in the southern Berkshires “who are spending too much on rent, or are doubled up with a family member, or living in some other circumstance that isn’t going to meet their long-term needs.” About a third of all applications, she said, are from those traveling too far to their jobs in the southern Berkshires. “If we want to retain that workforce, we have to find ways to make sure that folks can live in the communities where they work, where their kids go to school, where their social supports are. That’s just good community-building at any level,” she said.

Windrush Commons
Ground broke recently for Windrush Commons, which will contain 49 affordable units on South Main Street. Photo: Terry Cowgill

As explained to me by Kate Coulehan, housing associate at Construct, those 228 Great Barrington applications represent more than 228 people. Consider that there are currently 113 applications for one-bedroom apartments, some of which may be for a couple; 79 applications for two-bedroom apartments, which likely include children; 24 applications for three-bedroom apartments, and a few for four-bedroom and accessible housing for those with disabilities.

Courtney Kimball, who manages Construct’s transitional-housing program, told me about a steady stream of calls from local residents who suddenly face substantial rent increases when their leases expire — sometimes by 100 percent or more, while others are told at the end of their lease that the property is shifting to short-term rentals.

One factor in rising rents could be a feedback loop where rapidly increasing property values have led to higher taxes, changing the math for landlords. They need to increase rents (though certainly not by 100 percent) to cover those additional costs and may take the opportunity to shift their business to more lucrative short-term rentals. This can tighten the market and further increase housing costs.

As with other parts of the housing story, finding data sources that enable better analysis of what’s unfolding remains elusive, though Kimball described efforts Construct may undertake to capture more data that better quantifies what’s happening to renters in the region.

Sometimes lost in the conversation is that it’s not only service-industry workers at local retail stores and restaurants caught in the housing-market vise. Even those earning substantial salaries, such as doctors and nurses, today face extremely high costs for housing in the region, as well as higher gas prices that change the calculus for a long commute. More than ever, perhaps, these factors impact decisions about accepting otherwise attractive job offers here.

Anthony Rinaldi Jr.

Given the importance of maintaining high-quality healthcare in our region, and to follow up on what I’ve learned during interviews for this series, this week I reached out to Fairview Hospital to find out how it is addressing these challenges. Anthony Rinaldi, Jr., the executive vice president at Berkshire Health Systems, which owns Fairview, for now would only comment in general terms. “More options for housing in this community would improve our ability to have a strong workforce and keep them here,” he said in an emailed statement. “When there is not adequate or accessible housing, it affects all services, including healthcare.”

Separate from larger affordable-housing projects under construction, like CDCSB’s Windrush Commons, or existing affordable-housing units whose income limits exclude many local workers, how does other rental housing fill the gap? According to Great Barrington’s Housing Needs Assessment, prior to the pandemic in 2018 there were 954 renter-occupied units in Great Barrington. Notably, this was down from 1,149 rental units in 2010. These units are owned by a mix of affordable housing already discussed, so-called “mom-and-pop” landlords, larger enterprises like those built and managed by Richard Stanley, and local developers who may own a few units.

When I spoke to Ron Blumenthal, who along with his wife Naomi has, over the last 20 years, bought and renovated nine properties and currently rents six Great Barrington units long-term, he shared his perspectives on a range of housing issues, from his approach to his business to larger economic forces in the mix.

In the world of real-estate development and long-term rentals, Blumenthal has what’s likely a different approach than some when considering properties to acquire and renovate for long-term rentals. “I have a longer time horizon, and I spend whatever it takes to get the house really put together,” he told me during an interview earlier this month. “I don’t need to make immense amounts of money, and I don’t do a lot through debt financing,” he said. Blumenthal said he looks to earn a five-to-seven-percent annual return after expenses on his rental-property investments — a modest goal that he says he shares with potential tenants.

He doesn’t currently offer any properties for short-term rentals but has in the past and opposes limits on STRs proposed by the selectboard. He told me that he thinks landlords and STR operators have become “an easy target.” To that, Blumenthal has been involved with efforts led by local real-estate agents Claudia Laslie and Tony Segalla, and that include selectboard member Abrahams, to draft and advance the alternate citizen petition STR bylaw that only lightly regulates these rentals.

Ron Blumenthal. Photo via LinkedIn

This week Blumenthal showed me one of his tidy, one-bedroom apartments on Taconic Avenue, explaining that he generally charges around $1,000 per bedroom inclusive of utilities. It was small but certainly workable, on the ground floor of a three-unit property that opens to a large back yard with a substantial vegetable garden and orchard provided for tenants and maintained by Naomi Blumenthal. He told me that local development efforts could focus on similar “starter” apartments, that while small — he suggested perhaps 300 square feet — could “be gorgeous and more than livable if designed well.” He said this approach “doesn’t have to be invented, it’s been done in many places.”

On housing challenges more generally, Blumenthal pointed to the impact on real-estate prices of Great Barrington’s longtime position as a popular second-home and tourist destination, as well as larger economic forces, particularly the effect of student debt. Paying for higher education can force recent graduates to spend a significant portion of their income on housing costs, he said, noting the decades-long rise in college costs that have far outpaced inflation. (Overall in Great Barrington, 43 percent of Great Barrington renters were “cost-burdened,” or spending more than 30 percent of income on housing costs, prior to the pandemic.)

In comments he emailed to the selectboard last fall during the early stages of the STR discussion, Blumenthal highlighted what he said were obstacles to renovation and construction of multi-family rental housing in Great Barrington, including what he called “punitive pricing” of things like sewer costs and tax assessments. He’s proposed that town government convene a group of small developers like him, collaborate to issue bonds or assemble other financing, and then work together to rehabilitate dilapidated properties that could be added to the mix of rental housing.

Following Great Barrington’s town meeting on June 6, when it’s likely, but not assured, that a decision on regulating STRs will be made, my sense is that there’s broad interest from many quarters to address the escalating housing challenge. What vision, or consensus, will drive that work remains to be seen, as does how to successfully tackle local businesses’ immediate struggle to attract and retain the workers that keep the Berkshires running.

James Manning, a Great Barrington resident who has spoken at selectboard meetings in support of STR restrictions, described that workforce concern in a February e-mail to the board: “Who prefers a town where there will be no one to serve you coffee downtown, or serve you at a restaurant, or sell you groceries, or manage your prescriptions, or lifeguard your kids, or teach you skiing, or work at your gyms, or take care of your kids, or administer our kids’ education, or repair your cars, or maintain your property, or fix your pipes, or sell you weed?” he wrote.

Railroad Street Youth Project executive director Ananda Timpane

Earlier this year, in an Edge story about growing calls for ugent action on housing, the executive director of Railroad Street Youth Project, Ananda Timpane, suggested things are already dire. “As executive director of an employer, this is crisis-level,” Timpane said. “I can’t recruit staff. I have staff living in Poughkeepsie because they can’t live here, and I’m not going to be able to retain them.”

Ralph, of Construct, sounded a similarly cautious note. “If we don’t come up with something different from what we’re doing right now, we really are tipping over the edge of anything sustainable,” she said. “I would hope that we haven’t hit that tipping point where we become like a Vail or a Telluride where to keep the ski hills open, and all the industry around that, they’re busing in people from two hours away. We’re not there yet,” she said. “I think we need to be very careful and very mindful of providing a wide variety of housing options.”

When I asked Stanley what he sees for Great Barrington’s future, with an eye on the current housing situation, he said that over time he’s seen the pendulum swing between what he calls “boom days and spare days,” and that the town is now experiencing good times.

“At the end of the day,” he told me, “things are cyclical, but we’ve reached a plateau and we’re not going back to the late 1980s. We are going to continue to grow but grow at a slower pace because of most of the things we’re talking about,” he said, referring to housing and staffing issues.

Ensuring that there’s room on that plateau for all who want to live and work in Great Barrington will require ideas, shared vision, consensus, good policymaking, substantial funding, and — perhaps most importantly — leadership and action.

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Bill Shein writes a weekly column for The Edge.

UP NEXT: In the final part of this series, I’ll share voices of those struggling with housing challenges in South County, more ideas from elected members of town boards, provide a wrap-up of the STR debate heading into Great Barrington’s town meeting, and offer some concluding thoughts and analysis.