• Local
  • Pittsfield, MA
  • more weather >

As Stockbridge population declines, reach out to millennials

More Info
By Friday, May 17, 2019 Letters 22

To the editor:

I write because there is an issue in Stockbridge that needs to be addressed this year and not kicked down the road as many serious issues in Berkshire towns are.

Our Stockbridge population is declining with deaths, and is not being supplemented by births or by young people moving into the area. The millennials who were born here moved away to find lucrative work and more “happening” places.

How do we change this? Vermont has a very successful move-to-Vermont incentive grant program called “Remote Worker.” Google it.

More importantly, we in Stockbridge have become part of the Commonwealth’s Community Preservation Act. So what does that mean? Well, a few things.

The dollars the Commonwealth grants annually to the participating towns can be used for a number of things: Open space and recreation investments. Historical preservation, AND, believe it or not, financial incentives to lure first-time homeowners to live here. Who would have known? Evidently no one because those funds (in the case of Stockbridge they exceed $370,000.) have only been applied for by those nonprofits and open-space folks who pay attention.

Also there is a contradiction here in Stockbridge. There is a PILOT program (committee) to negotiate a way of getting those nonprofits who hold major acres of land in town, tax free, to pay something in lieu of taxes. So far they are not successful. But then, what do we do? We vote our nonprofits CPA dollars! This makes little sense to me.

So what can we do? My suggestion is, like Vermont, we have a marketing campaign to announce what we want… more young folks and families. We announce that we have these Community Preservation funds available to them in that campaign and continue the follow-through until it reaps results.

There are those who will say they will never come because there are no jobs. Balderdash! If there are millennials working in metro Boston or New York and they know how to use a computer, email and the phone, they can work from anywhere. Here their kids can go to great schools, and they don’t need to contend with over populated, claustrophobic highways and commuter trains. Here they can have a real family quality of life.

So? Anyone else up for making this happen?

John H. Hart

22 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Sage Radachowsky says:

    It’s the price of housing and land being way too expensive because it’s bought up by rich people and it’s extremely gentrified. It’s that simple. It’s too expensive for people who aren’t rich because this is how capitalism works, which is to say it works for the rich and not for the ret of us. It’s because the land is bought up by super rich people who can pay whatever price they need to get whatever they want, while regular people working for a living can’t afford to buy a house or buy land and build a modest house for the basic need of shelter. Capitalism doesn’t work for the majority of people very well. Either we can’t afford a house or we end up paying with 30 years of full time labor for it. Either way a raw deal for everyone except the rich. Stockbridge is the quintessence of this.

  2. Chelsea says:

    We had to move out of Stockbridge because we couldn’t afford to buy a home there and our landlords weren’t interested in selling to us. We (the young people with families) are here. We just can’t afford the real estate…good luck!

    Ps. The children’s librarian (Miss Jenny) at the Stockbridge library is enough to make me want to live there again! She’s a true gem and brings babies from all over the county and boarding NY state on Wednesday’s at 3. Check it out if you need a baby fix!

  3. Craig Okerstrom-Lang says:

    Excellent letter for not only Stockbridge but the whole county.

    Stockbridge needs to encourage creative housing for initiatives also…like allowing tiny houses and front lots like GB is doing.

    Affordable housing is key to all of the Berkshires future.

  4. Jim Balfanz says:

    When you have people on boards and committees, like Zoning and Planning boards, who enact policies and regulations that continue to shrink the affordable properties in any town, you will drive out people who can’t pay the ever increasing cost of ownership and taxes. That has, and continues to happen in Stockbridge.

    As for the new housing program, as John now knows, it has been there all along, but the CPC in Stockbridge has done nothing to begin to implement it.

    Want to begin to get that part of a CPA going in town? Get people on the committee who will actually begin to implement it.

    At this time, there is no annual report to the town that clearly states the total amount in the program. The CPA provides for mandatory funding of 10% each to Open space, Affordable Housing, and Historic Preservation. The Act gives each town the flexibility to use the other 70% as it chooses. Money can be saved to purchase land, build affordable housing; and, it can be used to implement the $10K for first time home buyers. The town can decide what to do.

    Without being critical of those on the committee, it still has to be pointed out that with better leadership, programs such as this could have been implemented.

    A cautionary note however is that the matching funds from the state have been going down almost each year. They are supposed to be matched 100%. In 2018, Stockbridge raised $199,383 in CPA taxes. The state sent $73,326 in matching funds. That was only a 37% match. In fact the town last received the full matching funds of 100% back in 2009. It did come close to 100% in 2014.

    Another caution: with the “bridge problems” jumping at our town rapidly, including the Curtisville historic one that has been closed for some time now, it is going to take millions – if a company can even be found who can actually restore it historically accurately – to fund just that project alone. Why not set aside some percent of the 70% to be used for that Historic project? It is the taxpayer’s $$$, so why not save a good portion to help alleviate the tax burden for projects coming down the road that will be funded by increased taxes?

    Leadership is the key. And, frankly the CPA program in Stockbridge should be more transparent; provide for “set asides” that our taxpayers will be paying in the future, to help offset costs of future projects. It can be done. The question is why hasn’t it already been done? Or, if it has, why doesn’t the town know more about the entirety of the program?

    And, where have the Selectmen been in providing some oversight or at least questioning what has been going on?

    Please note: I write this reply as a private citizen and not as a member of any town board or committee.

  5. John H. Hart says:

    So to all the concerns about “Capitalism”: Millenials who live in metro areas of NYC & Boston, if they have taken the leap to have families, more than likely have the money to afford a home in Stockbridge. What is “a lot of money” to us, to them, working, for example on Wall St., can work from here and they already have the money to afford it.
    Targeted marketing is what is needed.

  6. Brian Tobin says:

    In addition to all the good suggestions and thoughts offered here, I’d like to add that fiber optic broadband networks attract young people to move to Berkshire County and start families, as well as businesses. Can CPA funds be used to develop municipally-owned broadband networks as well as affordable housing?

    1. Jim Balfanz says:

      Brian, A town can decide each year what they want to do with the 70% of the total income from the CPA. They could put funds away each year to pay towards that project. It seems to me that this would be a very good additional way to increase the viability of any town. Great idea.

      1. Tom Blauvelt says:

        Hi Jim,
        CPA funds may only be used for 3 purposes: create affordable housing, historic preservation and for open space and recreation. Here is a link to the Community Preservation Coalition http://www.communitypreservation.org. This is a great site and it explains in detail how CPA funds may be used by communities. Hope this helps.

    2. Craig Okerstrom-Lang says:

      How about getting cell phone service in Stockbridge…a new tower on the hill at Marian Father’s has been proposed for years. What is the holdup?

      This is another asset the Town could offer to residents, visitors and emergency services.

      1. Jim Balfanz says:

        Interpretation of the CPA would, in my opinion, allow for communities to determine that such technical advances like better internet, broadband and cell service are indeed important to the “preservation” of their community, and therefore allow for funds to be set aside for that purpose. That is my opinion only, after rereading the CPC Bylaw regulation for our town. Please know that I respond as a private citizen and not as a member of any committee or board.

  7. Roxanne McCaffrey says:

    John’s suggestion that Stockbridge engage in “a marketing campaign to announce what we want… more young folks and families. We announce that we have these Community Preservation funds available to them in that campaign and continue the follow-through until it reaps results.” is to be commended.

    I agree with John that it is balderdash that no one will come here since there are “no jobs”. I made a choice to live in Stockbridge 50 years ago and over the decades commuted to work 50-60 minutes each way for the privilege of living here. That was well before the days of remote workers – how much easier it would have been had that option existed. I do not regret for one moment the decision I made; my children had the benefit of growing up in a community with civic pride, neighborly spirit and friendship.

    Encouraging young people to join our community is essential to our future well-being as a community.

    Massachusetts appears to recently enacted a program similar to Vermont’s – See below

    Bill S.208 191st (Current)
    An Act establishing the Western Massachusetts remote worker relocation incentive programSENATE DOCKET, NO. 1006 FILED ON: 1/16/2019

    The opportunity is there; let’s not let this get kicked down the road. I am prepared to make things happen, John.

    Roxanne McCaffrey
    (Selectman Candidate)

    1. Roxanne no McCaffrey says:

      Correction to my previous comment – this bill is currently in committee S208 if anyone wants to look it up and read the details.

  8. Steve says:

    We had to move our small business to Texas. In the Berkshires there was poor public transportation and limited access to larger cities like Albany, Boston and New York. No public transportation to a major airport. Bad internet and cell phone connectivity. No help for small business by local government. We get everything we need in Texas and taxes are much lower than MA. If the Berkshires won’t change, the area will suffer economically.

    1. Jim Hall says:

      Texas is certainly one of the more business-friendly states in the country. State taxes are tied to property, not income. I suppose those are all attractive in comparison to Massachusetts. I would push back on the “limited access” to Albany, Boston, and New York. If you choose Berkshire County as your home it is probably for factors like the rural lifestyle, bucolic landscape, and well-educated/tolerant citizenry. Getting to New York or Boston is actually very easy, although I agree that better public transportation options would help. You are correct, that Western Massachusetts does need to become more business and young-family friendly but it will never be like Texas, nor should it be. If you want low taxes and minimal regulation, Texas is a dream come true. That should have been obvious.

      1. LS says:

        I am in agreement with Steve. No public transportation options to major airports is a big issue for a person trying to run a business from the Berkshires.

        Of course people would love to have access to the “rural lifestyle, bucolic landscape”…well educated and tolerant is subjective…
        In any case it is difficult for young families & young businesses for obvious reasons. It would be nice if the barriers were seriously addressed so that the community could thrive.

      2. Steve says:

        How is it “easy” to get to New York or Boston?

  9. John says:

    The cumulative tax burden and unions drive most businesses and people out.
    It also does not help, that it was for years a common goal for town elected officials to have zero growth. In fact, they were often noted to joke “ we didn’t even want the grass to grow”.

  10. Kayemtee says:

    Too little, to late. Stockbridge is paying, and will continue to pay for years of NIMBY. A new Turnpike exit? Not in Stockbridge. A needed cell tower? Not in Stockbridge. Low cost housing? Not in Stockbridge. Fiber optic cable? Not in Stockbridge.

  11. Nate says:

    My millennial wife and I (I missed the cutoff by a few years) just moved from Manhattan to the Berkshires. We knew no one. We did not grow up in the Northeast. It was a decision based on research, cold calling, online sleuthing, and umpteem visits to the surrounding area. On paper, once you’ve compiled the facts, The Berkshires are one of the best kept secrets in the Northeast. But we almost skipped the area entirely because, as the author correctly points out, it was a real chore trying to learn about the towns and county. Plenty of information about apple picking and theatre. A dearth of easily discoverable information about public schools and local non-tourist amenities.

    We decided to leave Manhattan because a third child was on the way, we’d outgrown our apartment yet again, could not afford another bedroom and were fairly burnt out trying to make urban living work for a growing family. My company embraces remote working. I would only need to visit NYC one or two days per week. Portions of the Berkshires are perfectly suited for this type of remote work.

    Our criteria for relocation was simple: find a functioning small town that was not simply a bedroom community in a larger metro area. Several towns in the Berkshires fit the bill. Great Barrington won due to amenities, high speed internet (very very very important), decent cell phone coverage, above average schools and proximity to multiple transportation hubs. In 45-60 minutes, we can fly out of Albany or Hartford or roll out of Hudson, Pittsfield or Wassaic. NYC is a few hours away. Boston too. And instead of paying $1-2 million dollars for a starter home in Westchester, a historic gem can be had for a fraction of the cost.

    We spent a year trying to get to know Lenox, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield. There is very limited information online about the towns, services, public schools (heavy emphasis here), transportation, children’s programs, etc. As far as we could tell the only groups promoting the area and working hard to attract new faces were the private schools. We learned almost everything through private school interviews, campus visits and school-parent outreach. It was nearly impossible to extract any information from or connect with parents at the public schools.

    If you look up Muddy Brook Elementary on Google you’ll quickly be linked to GreatSchools.org. There you’ll find a very low test score rating and a handful of reviews, most of which are five years old. Millennials are making entire life choices based on Google, Zillow, GreatSchools, Niche and social media. These platforms cannot be ignored. The towns and public schools should be promoting themselves heavily (via residents and parents ideally) on these forums. No budget required. Just implore people to share their experiences.

    If you want to see a Millennial influx, I recommend focussing on Millennial parents. They all rode the urban wave into cities like Boston and NYC. They’re now having kids and some are seeking small towns just like Stockbridge. They just need something more than Norman Rockwell and The Red Lion Inn to grasp on to. Outbound marketing could be a solution but fixing the inbound marketing strategy may go further.

  12. Stephen Cohen says:

    Nate’s comments are crucial reading for all of us. This is the first time I have read a real critique of how information is obtained by young people with families who are looking to move out of New York and Boston. Obviously, Nate’s experience and difficulty in getting information applies to all young people who would like a different life-style other than a big city. Our various booster groups are falling way short in finding and appealing to these new possible residents, as are our other institutions, including the public schools and social service entities. The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce has to change its almost exclusive focus on tourism, and start significant outreach to this population, particularly how to reach them. Nate’s comments are some of the most important I have read in the Edge.

    1. Steve Farina says:

      And, perhaps our school systems could learn from the embrace of “remote working” and start looking seriously at remote learning. It offers so many upsides:
      * Less “building/structure” infrastructure
      * Lower transportation costs – and as an added bonus less carbon footprint
      * Enhanced course offerings in lower populated areas
      * Reduced teacher headcount
      * Reduced staffing needs all around
      * Increased flexibility in course offerings
      * Increased adaptability to new technology and educational methods

      1. Brian Tobin says:

        And for that, every student’s home must have reliable access to high speed broadband i.e., at a bare minimum 25 mbps. We have 500 mbps in our town, upgradable to 1GB when we need it. I don’t see that happening soon in all but a handful of towns.

        This is the root of the problem in rural towns across the country.

What's your opinion?

We welcome your comments and appreciate your respect for others. We kindly ask you to keep your comments as civil and focused as possible. If this is your first time leaving a comment on our website we will send you an email confirmation to validate your identity.