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Reimagining a Gilded Age Home

Thinking Outside of the Box to Meet Our Housing Needs

Berkshire Magazine — By Laura Mars

I arrived at Cassilis Farm in New Marlborough on a snowy February afternoon, excited to explore the Gilded Age mansion that is to be transformed into affordable housing. What a worthy new life for this impressive estate! First, though, the property will host a spectacular Designer Showcase—a fundraising event to show off the Berkshire’s history, the building’s beauty, and the region’s talented interior designers. It will also raise awareness of the need for more housing, as well as raise money for its new owner, Construct, Inc., the leading nonprofit provider of affordable housing in the southern Berkshires.  

The Designer Showcase, themed “Nature in the Berkshires,” will be a timed, ticketed walk-through and will be open to visitors through five weekends in June. Additional events surrounding the fundraiser include a New Marlborough community day, as well as a special opening night tour and reception at Cassilis Farm. When the show is finished, the rooms will be dismantled, and Cassilis will begin its transformation into a place where 13 families will call home.

Laura Jordahl, Construct’s site manager for the Designer Showcase, led me into the Annex, where voices rang out from the top of the staircase. Valerie Winig of Wingate Designs was measuring windows for lace curtains and points to the walls where botanical wallpaper will hang. She is one of 15 area designers who are donating time and resources to reimagine spaces in the Main House, built in 1890, and Annex, built in 1900.

“It’s such a beautiful home,” says Winig, who is working on the staircase as well as the first and second floor hallway and a powder room. “It’s unimaginable that everyone is putting in all this unbelievable gorgeousness and it will be ripped apart. It’s like a stage set. But it matters not. It’s for a good cause, and we want to participate in making it an exciting event.”

“Support for the Showcase has been incredible, from the town of New Marlborough to designers and artists, community members, businesses, even Construct’s staff and volunteers are reenergized,” says Jordahl, who came up with the idea with fellow board members Betty Farbman and Hinda Bodinger.

“It will not only showcase the incredible design talent we have in the Berkshires,” says Bodinger, the event’s co-chair, “but also present a way to start a conversation about affordable housing with those who might not be aware of the issue. The fact is that nonprofits need to raise money, and we knew that having a Gilded Age mansion at our fingertips offered a unique opportunity, an opportunity made even more attractive by adding the talent of local designers working within a ‘Nature in the Berkshires’ theme.”

Visitors will enter the showcase from the Annex’s stone patio, stepping into a wood-paneled space that will be designed by Hammertown. (The room has one of eight fireplaces found in Cassilis.) The kitchen will be Construct’s mission room. Danielle Sweet has space beyond the kitchen, Harry Heissmann and Tillett Textiles are collaborating on the upstairs nursery, and so on. Rooms are reserved for each designer’s interpretation of the theme through their unique artistry.

Jordahl explains that after the event, Construct will create three affordable housing duplexes in the Annex—moving walls and adding staircases and separate entrances. A screened-in patio at the back of the Annex offers views of the three-story Main House, which will become eight apartments, and renovation of two separate houses on the property brings the total to 13 affordable housing units. Construction will start in late-summer, assuming funding needs are met, with apartments ready for tenants in 2026 and the houses earlier than that.

Jordahl leads us into the Main House, noting that the façade of the buildings will not change—a stipulation from the town. Gilded Age details abound, including antique hardware, impressive wood-work, and, of course, gorgeous fireplaces. The center hall will become a Gallery Hall, with artwork loaned by Berkshire artists, including Shawn Fields, Kathryn Freeman, Maurice “Pops” Peterson, Gail Gelburd, and Laura Christensen. Local landscapers are donating time and resources to create an outdoor space worthy of what lies within.

It’s not clear at this point how Cassilis’ two large barns will play into Construct’s future housing plans, but it’s easy to imagine more transformation, as well as new construction at some point down the road.

Construct and the New Marlborough Housing Development Committee bought the 27-acre property in 2022 at an auction. The town currently has no affordable housing, so this is a step to meeting the state mandate that requires all 351 towns and cities in the Commonwealth maintain at least 10 percent of their total year-round housing stock as affordable. According to the Citizens Housing and Planning Association, 71 communities in Massachusetts currently meet that goal, including Pittsfield, Great Barrington, and Stockbridge.

The Cassilis Farm Designer Showcase launch party takes place on May 29 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Partygoers will meet the designers as they tour the house, enjoy appetizers and drinks provided by Old Inn on the Green, and listen to an impressive lineup of speakers. Tickets are $250. General admission is $40, Fridays to Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the month of June.

“This is the most important era for these grand estates,” says Cassilis Project Manager Nichole Dupont, “and Construct sees the opportunity to develop a new meaning.”

Construct Executive Director Jane Ralph sees Cassilis as a win-win. “Not only are we going to transform a Gilded Age mansion to affordable housing while keeping the Gilded Age Mansion look, but I hope we’re also going to transform people’s understanding of what affordable housing is and who we serve. It is a better visibility opportunity than I could have imagined.

“We have over 385 households on our waitlist for about 90 units of housing that we own or manage. What we hope to achieve through the Designer Showcase is to raise the rest of the private equity that we need for the project, about $600,000. What would be really great is if we not only raised the money for Cassilis, but also an opportunity fund so that when a property became available, we could move quickly.” That opportunity could be another Windflower, the Great Barrington inn that Construct bought in 2018 and turned into 13 living spaces.

According to Ralph, most of Construct’s housing is for people with incomes 30 to 60 percent of Area Median Income (AMI). Anyone at or below 80 percent AMI is eligible for Affordable Housing, and Workforce Housing is usually for those earning between 80 to 120 percent AMI. “Affordable is relative,” notes Ralph.

Indeed. Leigh Davis, vice chair of the Great Barrington Selectboard who is running for the state representative seat to be vacated by Smitty Pignatelli, agrees that the Berkshires needs housing for everyone—not only affordable housing, but housing for those earning a decent wage, including teachers, firefighters, and nurses. While the average Great Barrington resident can afford a $350,000 house, the town’s median home price is $783,000.

Countywide, it’s around $475,000, up from $250,000 in 2020.

Davis is encouraged that people are paying attention. “There is a lot of good work happening,” she says. “People are digging in and rowing in the same direction.” Governor Maura Healy’s recently proposed Affordable Homes Act (AHA)—$4.4 billion for housing—is a game changer for the Berkshires, adds Davis.

Beyond Beacon Hill, groups in the Berkshires are pulling together, raising awareness, and finding creative solutions that will make a difference.

The Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire recently completed Windrush Commons—49 affordable apartments on the south side of Great Barrington—and purchased Thornewood Inn on the town’s north end to create 18 Workforce Housing units. And Great Barrington Affordable Housing Trust Fund member Bill Cook proposed a tiny homes development, based on what he saw in Martha’s Vineyard. Small (averaging 750 square feet) but affordable ($225,000) tiny homes are not for everyone, but a piece of the puzzle.

Eagle Mill Redevelopment is creating 128 units of mixed-income housing on the site of Eagle Mill in Lee, one of 25 paper mills that once operated in the town. It was built in 1808, saw eight additions over the years, and closed in 2008. The multi-phased, $80 million project includes replacing, renovating, and building new, for a variety of housing and recreational opportunities.

In addition to physically digging in to create much-needed living space, the solution to the housing crisis includes raising community awareness. How did we get here, and how do we create permanent solutions? To that end, 1Berkshire—the county’s official regional economic organization and regional tourism council—put together a 24-member Berkshire Housing Practitioners Working Group that compiled a 36-page Housing Vision for the Berkshires document. They identified several strategies, including education, creating a supportive environment, advocating, and securing financial resources.

“The idea behind the report,” says 1Berkshire Executive Director Jonathan Butler, “is to understand that different organizations have different missions, but at the end of the day, we all impact each other. A lot has been done to create a common level of understanding, to understand what barriers housing developers are facing, for example.”

Butler is also quick to point out that the governor’s AHA tackles several issues identified in the report—like permitting, state funding, and market-rate development. All are pieces of the puzzle.

Peter Taylor is executive director of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, a public charity whose goal is to improve the region by encouraging philanthropy, pooling and investing resources, addressing urgent needs, and supporting individuals and nonprofits through grants and scholarships. Taylor explains philanthropy’s role in solving the housing crisis. “One big thing we do is partner with nonprofits like Construct and 1Berkshire,” he says. “Our program Neighbor to Neighbor, for example, supports Construct’s Housing Assistance Fund, allowing them to be nimble in helping to keep people in the housing they are currently in.

“A lot of our donors are self-directed, they are living in our communities and know what they want to support. Others work with our staff to connect with issues they care about, including housing affordability. One sector alone is not going to solve this issue.”

The hard work of state government, cities, town, housing and community development organizations, philanthropy, and individual citizens are all pieces of the housing puzzle. To learn more about the Cassilis Farm Designer Showcase, or how to become a corporate sponsor, visit constructberkshires.org. More on 1Berkshires’ housing report at 1berkshire.com.



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Designer Showcase to Benefit Construct

from Berkshire Style: In and Around the Berkshires, an online resource — by Kathryn Boughton

By opulent Gilded Age standards, Cassilis Farm in New Marlborough was a modest château, having a mere 14 bedrooms in the main house and only six more in its annex.

Built in 1890 and burned to the ground in 1902, the rebuilt mansion became the playground in 1910 of wealthy New York City banker Hildreth Kennedy Bloodgood III. It loomed large in elite equestrian circles in the 19th century as Bloodgood, a noted sportsman, and his daughter became preeminent breeders of hackney horses.

After 134 years the property, which has since passed through the hands of several owners, is now poised to enter a new phase of its history. Construct, Inc., a nonprofit provider of affordable housing and supportive services in the southern Berkshires, is preparing to convert it to 11 affordable apartments.

But before the construction begins, the venerable building with its gracious interior will be transformed into a month-long showcase for regional designers. The designers, whose areas of focus range from staging and interiors to styling and textile design, are bringing their unique visions to transform the Gilded Age estate, highlighting the region’s diverse natural beauty and commitment to outdoor conservation and recreation.

“We have 15 designers from the southern Berkshires and New York State,” said Nichole Dupont, showcase project manager. “There are also two landscapers and eight visual artists showing just beautiful works in a gallery in one of the hallways. The Berkshire Gilded Age estates are becoming destinations and this will be a last chance to see the interior of Cassilis Farm before it is renovated.”

The Designer Showhouse opens May 31st and runs through June 30th.

“As we’ve reached out to interior designers, landscape designers and others with our appeal to help us with the showcase, the overwhelming response has been ‘yes!,’” said co-chair and Construct board member Laura Jordahl. “They, like many businesses, have been directly affected by the shortage of affordable housing. All of us know that working to make Cassilis into a place that 11 families will call home will help to strengthen our community ties.”

All proceeds from the event will go directly to much-needed affordable housing in the Berkshires. The housing crisis is at an all-time high in Berkshire County and affects the workforce, the elderly, families and businesses in the New Marlborough area. There is currently no affordable housing in the town and its businesses struggle to keep their doors open because of staffing shortages.

“Housing is the headline of the decade,” said Dupont. “There are currently 375 people on a waiting list in southern Berkshire County alone. It’s the greatest need in the area.” She noted that New Marlborough has been instrumental in pushing the Cassilis Farm project, dedicating ARPA funds to help secure the property.

Dupont said the theme “Nature in the Berkshires,” was chosen because of the location. “New Marlborough is a land-centric community,” she observed. “Some designers took the history of house and paid homage to the 1880s. There is one room with an equestrian, Ralph Lauren, look because of the farm’s history of breeding hackney ponies.

“One designer took inspiration from a Berkshire Eagle article about a mute swan refuge in Pittsfield, and created a swan nursery,” she continued. “It has custom wallpaper and a papier-mâché bassinette with an actual swan in it.

“Another took a small art studio off the main property and turned it into a glass atelier, with a botanicals and period furniture while the Willets Trophy Room, with its 12-foot dining table looks like a gentlemen’s club. There is a bar with a mural of a bookcase with vines growing through it so it looks like nature is entering the room,” she recounted.

The dining room has a “Strawberry Fields” motif in an open, airy chamber highlighted with lush metallic wallpaper and fabrics, according to Dupont. “Strawberry Fields” is an appropriate designation as John Lennon and Yoko Ono were guests at the farm, probably on multiple occasions, when George Maciunas, founder of the Fluxus international art movement, lived there in the 1970s.

Designers include Barrington Outfitters, C Herrington Home Design, Carly Jane Design, Danielle Sweet Interiors, Gallery 315Home Germain Interiors, Hammertown, Harry Heissmann, Irwin Feld Design, Jennifer Bianco Design, Jess Cooney Interiors, Pryor & Peacock, Staged Ryte, Tillett Textiles, Tune Street and Wingate Ltd. “These designers are spending hundreds of hours and other resources on these rooms,” said Dupont.

The landscapers are Helia Native Nursery and Whalen Nursery while artists Laura Christensen, Kathryn Freeman, Ann Getsinger, Pops Peterson/Maurice, Kate Knapp, Gail Gelburd, Shawn Fields, Robin Tost and Bob Watkins will exhibit in the gallery.

“The people I’m working with on the Construct Board of Directors are very dedicated to making this (affordable housing) happen,” reported Dupont. “These are second-home owners who are dedicated to preserving the towns they have chosen to live in. I’m amazed at how they want to build the community.”

“Nature in the Berkshires” will be a timed, ticketed walkthrough and will be open to visitors through five weekends in June. Additional events surrounding the fundraiser include a New Marlborough community day as well as a special Opening Night tour and reception at Cassilis Farm.

Information about the Designer Showcase will be updated on Construct’s dedicated website as well as via Construct’s social media handles. Tickets are now on sale.

For more than 50 years, Construct Inc. has played a role in offering affordable housing in southern Berkshire County. Its accomplishments include managing the construction of Forest Springs, an 11-unit development in Great Barrington, and successfully transforming a local inn into workforce housing. More information on Construct can be found by clicking the link below or by calling 413-528-1985.



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Warm Up The Winter: The Big Event!

A Stunning Night of Music and Community

Our Warm Up The Winter Concert was held March 7th at the Egremont Barn. What a night! Incredible performances from The Wanda Houston Band, The Interns, Billy Keene, Jackson Whalan, Matt Cusson, Andy Wrba, Matt Steckler, Natalia Bernal & Jason Ennis, and Jackson Ducharme. Many thanks to our hosts, Josh Irwin and Lauren Ambrose.

The generous concert attendees helped us raise an additional $10,000 towards our Warm Up The Winter campaign.

We’re getting close to our goal!

You can help us get there — this is your last chance to contribute. Help us help our neighbors.

Click slide to see full sized image.



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Construct to host Designer Showcase at historic Cassilis Farm in New Marlborough, June 2024

Fundraising initiative for affordable housing space in the southern Berkshires

New Marlborough, Mass. – Construct, Inc., a nonprofit provider of affordable housing and supportive services to residents in fifteen towns across the southern Berkshires, is proud to announce its first Designer Showcase event/exhibition. Slated for the entire month of June 2024, the Designer Showcase will highlight the work of more than a dozen local and regional designers, as well as landscape architects and visual artists. Each exhibitor has been assigned a space at Cassilis Farm, a 27-acre, Gilded Age estate that Construct, along with the New Marlborough Housing Development Committee, purchased at auction with the intention of renovating and converting it into 11 much needed affordable housing apartments.

“We have the opportunity to take advantage of Construct having acquired this magnificent estate,” says Construct Board Secretary Hinda Bodinger, who is also co-chair for the Designer Showcase Committee. “Utilizing such a beautiful space allows us to highlight the talent of the designers, and to share our mission in a unique way with the greater community.”

Cassilis Farm

“As we’ve reached out to interior designers, landscape designers and others with our appeal to help us with the Showcase, the overwhelming response has been ‘YES!,’” says co-chair and Construct board member Laura Jordahl. “Because they, like many businesses, have been directly affected by the shortage of affordable housing. All of us know that working to make Cassilis into a place that 11 families will call home will help to strengthen our community ties.”

The Designer Showcase, themed “Nature in the Berkshires,” will be a timed, ticketed walkthrough and will be open to visitors through five weekends in June. Additional events surrounding the fundraiser include a New Marlborough community day as well as a special Opening Night tour and reception at Cassilis Farm.

Information about the Designer Showcase will be updated on Construct’s dedicated website, as well as via Construct’s social media handles. Tickets may be purchased online beginning April 1, 2024.

Berkshire Magazine is the official media sponsor of the Construct Designer Showcase.

ABOUT CONSTRUCT
Based in Great Barrington, MA, Construct has been the leading nonprofit provider of affordable housing and supportive services to south Berkshire County residents in need for more than 50 years. Providing more than 90 permanent, affordable housing options, Construct also offers ten units for individuals transitioning out of homelessness, and is building affordable housing in New Marlborough, MA. The bulk of Construct’s annual income comes from individual donors. With this support, Construct helps rebuild security, stability, and hope in the southern Berkshires. 

More information on Construct can be found at constructberkshires.org or by calling (413) 528-1985.



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Great Barrington’s Affordable Housing Trust Takes On the Community’s Largest Economic Challenge

— The Berkshire Argus Podcast

Check out this interesting and informative podcast about affordable housing in the Southern Berkshires.

“This episode of the podcast is a conversation about the current housing landscape with Bill Cooke and Ananda Timpane, two members of Great Barrington’s Affordable Housing Trust. The Trust is an appointed municipal board, made up of volunteers, and focused on securing funds and investing in housing solutions, from down-payment assistance, to subsidizing affordable units built by private developers, to advancing proposals for accessory dwelling units that can house more people and help those already living here afford to stay.”



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Leigh Davis Testifies Before Joint Committee on Housing in Support of Affordable Homes Act

— The Berkshire Edge / Peter J. Most, January 22, 2024

“Last Thursday, Great Barrington Selectboard Vice Chair Leigh Davis went to Beacon Hill to testify before the Joint Committee on Housing in support of Governor Healey’s Affordable Homes Act. Ms. Davis testified regarding the particular housing challenges facing Great Barrington and to speak in favor of and request tweaks to one aspect of the bill: the Local Option Transfer Fee. Let’s hope Ms. Davis’s message was heard and her suggested tweaks adopted.

To loosely paraphrase Woody Allen, a town is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward (with housing), or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark. Ms. Davis has been working both in her professional and elected positions to advance housing opportunities to ensure our town moves forward with housing and does not die. This is not hyperbole. If we are unable to house the folks that work here, if we are unable to attract families to live here, we are on the road to ruin.

Let me share a portion of Ms. Davis’ prepared testimony with you because (i) it should be heard and (ii) assuming the Affordable Homes Act becomes law, we will each need to support its implementation at Town Meeting:

‘This bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build the equitable, affordable, and sustainable Commonwealth that our residents and communities deserve. My testimony will focus on amendments to the Local Option Real Estate Transfer Fee policy proposal.

Great Barrington is the hub of south Berkshire County—home to many cultural assets such as Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, and the Norman Rockwell Museum. Voted “Best Small Town” by Smithsonian Magazine, Great Barrington is a seasonal community with a population of just over 7,000. Blessed with natural beauty and an abundance of shops and restaurants, we even have a local hospital, Fairview, named one of the top 20 critical access hospitals in the country. It all sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s not. We are drowning.

Great Barrington’s economic future—the economic future of the Berkshires—is hanging in the balance. There is simply not enough affordable housing to sustain our communities. As a tourism-driven region, the Berkshires depend on the service industry to drive our economy, but many who work here are no longer able to afford to live here. And they’re leaving.

In their wake, businesses large and small are finding it impossible to staff service positions. Even Fairview Hospital, a safety net for the Great Barrington community for more than a century, is struggling to house its workers—many jobs left unfilled. As we speak, Fairview Hospital has 48 openings—all attributable to a lack of housing. And as Fairview explained, this is medical staff that it desperately needs to hire due to our aging population.

The housing crisis Great Barrington is facing presents many other challenges as well: The average renter working a typical minimum wage job needs to work 80 hours a week in order to afford a one-bed, market-rate apartment in Great Barrington, 141 hours a week if they require two bedrooms. And that’s if they are lucky enough to find housing.

The average rental vacancy rate across the Commonwealth is three percent, and across the nation, it is five percent. In Great Barrington, it’s zero percent.

Our town has also seen its housing affordability gap surge to over $400,000—the median home price in Great Barrington —$783,000—the average resident only able to afford $350,000. And in 2022, cash buyers made up roughly half of the sales across Lenox, Great Barrington, and Williamstown. Adding to Great Barrington’s housing pressures is the fact that between 2015 and 2020, Great Barrington saw a stunning 67 percent increase in properties used as second and third homes, not counting the full impact caused by the pandemic—many prices paid well above the $440,000 single-family home median value.

The housing stock is both not affordable and rapidly disappearing, and it’s dragging the local economy down, taking our soul with it… As well as the many other hats I wear in the community, I speak today also as a member of Great Barrington’s Community Preservation Committee. Great Barrington has consistently appropriated the majority of CPA funds to affordable housing despite competition from historic preservation, conservation, and recreation. Last month, our town’s committee recommended to Town Meeting that two-thirds of CPA funding go to affordable housing. The town is using all the resources at its disposal to increase our affordable housing stock, including passing a Short-Term Rental bylaw two years ago to try to pump the brakes on investors targeting our community. But it’s not enough. We need a tool to generate funds.

The Local Option Real Estate Transfer Fee is that tool. However, for this tool to be accessible to communities like ours, two critical amendments are needed in the bill. Currently proposed, this local option fee would be applied on only the portion of home sales over $1 million, effectively denying the western region—and other regions as well—the use of this tool altogether. I urge your adoption of an amendment so the fee is on the total transaction for sales over $1 million—not only the portion over $1 million.

In addition, the requirement for the seller to pay the transfer fee, rather than leaving this up to the municipality, is problematic in towns like Great Barrington, where many longtime residents depend on the sale of their homes to fund their retirement. The seller paying the full fee simply won’t pass at many Town Meetings. Local officials understand their communities better than anyone else, and it is critical that municipalities have the ability to structure this fee to meet local conditions and needs. I urge your adoption of an amendment that removes the requirement for the fee to be borne entirely by the seller.

Waiting for the outcome of this bill, the Great Barrington Joint Selectboard and Planning Board Housing Subcommittee, which I chair, has agreed to table our pending Home Rule Petition. We recognize the urgency of our community’s housing crisis and are hopeful that the final transfer fee legislation is flexible enough to meet the needs of diverse communities such as ours.

In sum, I request your favorable report of this bill with the requested modifications as soon as possible.’

Ms. Davis is advocating that it be permissible for the transfer fee to be split between buyer and seller (the current bill has the seller paying the entire fee) and, for good reason, that the fee be assessed against the entire transaction amount, not just that portion over $1 million. While the median home value on Nantucket is $3.4 million, with homes listing for as much as $35 million, Great Barrington’s median home price was $783,000 in October, with relatively few homes trading above $1 million. Thus, Nantucket can expect to fill its affordable housing trust coffers while Great Barrington will maybe get a few beans for its trust. By equitably splitting the fee on the total transaction amount, Great Barrington will have a far better opportunity to contribute to its housing trust and support housing initiatives.

No one likes to be assessed a fee, or even half a fee as proposed by Ms. Davis. And real estate professionals are likely to oppose any fee that may dampen housing sales (which this won’t); of course, their 5 percent fee over the entire transaction amount remains sacrosanct. But the issue is bigger than what part of one percent should be paid by whom. If Great Barrington is not able to align its housing and employment needs, in the long run, no one will want to live here, vacation here, or maintain a second home here. Surely real estate professionals appreciate that five percent of an inactive market is even less attractive.

Much like the frog in heating water, let’s not ignore our heating housing crisis. The “help wanted” signs plastered around town. The fact that nearly everyone that works at our gem of a hospital travels to get there. Teachers are turning down positions because of the housing affordability crisis. The signs are there, they are real, and they are accumulating. When it is our chance to support the Local Option Transfer Fee, I hope we all will. It is another tool we need to get our housing stock back on track and give our community an opportunity to continue to thrive.”

Editor’s note: Davis said in her original testimony that Fairview Hospital had five job openings attributable to a lack of affordable housing. On January 23, Davis wrote to The Berkshire Edge that the number now stands at 48 job openings.

Subsequently, Fairview Hospital representative Lauren Smith contacted Peter Most and provided the following statement:  “There are 48 overall job openings at Fairview Hospital, and anecdotally the five that were referenced did have as a factor the lack of affordable housing options, but we cannot tie that issue directly to the total number of openings.



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A Welcome Win For Affordable Housing In New Marlborough

Berkshire Eagle ~ Opinion 1/27/24

This affordable housing plan at Cassilis Farm exemplifies what’s possible when public, private and nonprofit interests put their heads together and their money where their mouth is to meet a local and regional need. This endeavor is another feather in the hat for Construct, a nonprofit that has been instrumental in growing affordable housing in South County. Berkshire communities need to aggressively and creatively pursue opportunities to put a dent in the region’s housing crunch wherever and however they can. Kudos to New Marlborough, Construct and all involved in the Cassilis Farm housing project for modeling that effort.”

As regional prospects for affordability and growth feel the squeeze of a housing crunch, smart plans for new units in the Berkshires is the sort of good news we’ll always welcome.

So we were pleased to hear that a $2 million boost from a subsidized mortgage and grants is pushing an ambitious affordable housing project in New Marlborough closer to fruition. Back in 2022, South County nonprofit Construct Inc. bought Cassilis Farm, a Gilded Age estate off Hartsville New Marlborough Road, with the goal of converting the unoccupied 23-room mansion into multiple residences to meet a growing regional need. The 13 units — 11 apartments plus two single-family homes on the 20-acre property — are slated to be occupant-ready by early 2026 and will be the town of New Marlborough’s first affordable housing units.

In 2020, New Marlborough’s Affordable Housing Committee released a report underscoring concerns we’ve heard from business leaders, officials and advocates across the county: It’s becoming exceedingly difficult to attract families, keep fixed-income folks in their hometowns and maintain a healthy workforce when there are very few housing units for them to live in and even fewer considered affordable. As we’ve stressed before, Berkshire stakeholders need to focus on creating as many units as we can. While the housing crunch is a statewide issue that is bigger than any one community, local leaders can and should pursue creative and ambitious plans to put some points on the board for affordable housing — because in a housing squeeze this tight, every unit counts, especially in towns whose affordable stock is low or nonexistent.

This affordable housing plan at Cassilis Farm exemplifies what’s possible when public, private and nonprofit interests put their heads together and their money where their mouth is to meet a local and regional need. This endeavor is another feather in the hat for Construct, a nonprofit that has been instrumental in growing affordable housing in South County. The town of New Marlborough has some skin in the game as well, investing a chunk of federal pandemic relief funds and wisely putting conditions on the special permit that limit impact (maintain the building’s Gilded Age facade, put up trees or fences to prevent excessive light hitting neighboring properties) without being needlessly onerous. The $2 million secured last week comes from a $1.2 million subsidized mortgage held by Greylock Federal Credit Union — one that is permanently paid for by the government after construction — and an $850,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Affordable Housing Program. In addition, part of the project was funded by the generosity of private donations.

That’s a lot of pieces, but the puzzle that community partners can put together in the end is well worth it; 13 affordable units in a town of 1,500 that previously had none is a win worth celebrating in the larger battle to make it easier to live in a county so many love to call home.

Too often have parochial and NIMBY attitudes tripped up or even tanked critical affordable housing projects throughout the Berkshires. We’re happy to see that’s not the case here, and we hope projects like the Cassilis Farm renovation signal shifting priorities for residents and officials of communities recognizing the need for an all-hands-on deck approach to beefing up housing stock.

It appears to be catching on in small towns and cities alike. Just this week, the Pittsfield City Council voted to expand the downtown housing development zone in support of a proposed apartment project at 100 Wendell Ave. and the possibility of another such development at 55 Linden St. Broadening the zone to include those areas would unlock additional funding through the projects via a local tax increment exemption and state tax credits to offset the cost of qualified project expenditures. The City Council also approved a tax exemption plan for the 100 Wendell Ave. project to slowly phase in payments so that developer AM Management won’t immediately be hit with higher taxes after it invests a planned $3.8 million to convert the property from commercial to residential use.

These downtown Pittsfield prospects would not entail affordable units, but even still more market-rate supply to address demand is a good thing for the city at the heart of the Berk-shires. AM Management wants to convert 13 office Units at 100 Wendell Ave. into a 28-apartment complex it’s calling the Pointe, while Pittsfield’s community development director noted the property at 55 Linden St., the former Polish Community Club, has “potential” for future development. It bears repeating: We need all the units we can get, whether they’re built, preserved or converted.

These developments for cautious optimism on the region’s housing prospects came at a good time to blunt some disheartening news from Beacon Hill. Earlier this week, Gov. Maura Healey announced that a funding blast from the state’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program will assist 26 projects with building or preserving 1,900 units across 19 communities across the commonwealth. That sounds great, unless you read that news in Berkshire County and realize that none of those 19 municipalities is located west of the I-91 corridor. (Communities in Franklin County, the Berkshires’ neighbor to the northeast situated in the northern part of the 91 corridor, also were left out entirely.)

At this point, one might figure we westernmost constituents are used to being overlooked by Beacon Hill, but it still stings, especially in the context of a housing crisis just as pressing here as the rest of the state and a Healey administration that pledged to pursue regional equity. All the more reason why our Berkshire communities need to aggressively and creatively pursue opportunities to put a dent in the region’s housing crunch wherever and however they can. Kudos to New Marlborough, Construct and all involved in the Cassilis Farm housing project for modeling that effort.



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Construct Receives $2M for Renovation of Cassilis Farm in New Marlborough

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

NEW MARLBOROUGH, MA – Construct, the leading nonprofit provider of affordable housing and support services in the Southern Berkshires, has received over $2 million in funding from Federal Home Loan Bank Boston’s (FHLB) Affordable Housing Competitive Funding Program, in partnership with Greylock Federal Credit Union. This award is a tremendous step toward providing New Marlborough with its first affordable housing units. The money will help Construct create 11 new apartments at Cassilis Farm, a Gilded Age estate set on eight acres. Two additional single-family houses on the property will be funded privately, providing more immediate homes for New Marlborough’s essential workers.

FHL Banks Boston’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP) supports the development and rehabilitation of stable and affordable rental and for-sale properties in New England. Grants and loans help pay construction, acquisition, and rehabilitation costs. The $2 million awarded to Construct consists of a $1.2M subsidized mortgage and a $850,000 grant. Partnering with Construct, Greylock Federal Credit Union will hold its construction loan, which will become a permanent subsidized mortgage at the end of the project’s construction phase.

In 2020, New Marlborough’s Affordable Housing Committee released a report stating that the town has no affordable housing and businesses are struggling to keep their doors open due to severe staff shortages. In 2022, with the housing crisis at an all-time high in southern Berkshire County, Construct purchased Cassilis Farm with the generous financial support of friends, neighbors, and New Marlborough ARPA funds. When construction is complete, Construct will have created a total of thirteen new units of 1-3 bedroom affordable housing, expanding New Marlborough’s community base, promoting economic stability, and contributing to a future of growth and development. Full occupancy at Cassilis Farm is anticipated in early 2026.

Michael Barbieri, Greylock Federal Credit Union’s Vice President and Manager of Business Banking states, “At Greylock, we recognize and understand that affordable housing is essential to maintaining a strong and vital community. This project will help to ensure that members of our local workforce in New Marlborough will be able to live in the community where they invest their time, talent, and energy each day.”

Jane Ralph, Construct’s Executive Director, states, “Receiving this funding in partnership with Greylock Federal Credit Union is a positive step forward. It is gratifying to see our shared vision of affordable housing in New Marlborough gain momentum in this way. It’s a long and complicated process, and this vote of confidence and support means so much.”

ABOUT CONSTRUCT

Based in Great Barrington, Construct has been the leading nonprofit provider of affordable housing and supportive services to south Berkshire County residents in need for over 50 years. With a small, highly skilled staff and committed volunteers, Construct leverages time, talent, money, and long-standing community relationships to support its mission. Providing over 90 permanent, affordable housing options, Construct also offers ten units for individuals transitioning out of homelessness. The bulk of Construct’s annual income comes from individual donors. With this support, Construct helps rebuild security, stability, and hope in the southern Berkshires. 



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Thank You to the Community Preservation Committees of Great Barrington and Lee

December 2023

The Great Barrington CPA has recommended that Construct receive $110,000 to establish a new Transitional Housing program at our Mahaiwe Street property. The new program structure will replace and improve our existing HUD-funded program, addressing specific needs and safety concerns to prioritize the homeless population and facilitate stable, long-term housing solutions. 

The Great Barrington CPA funding will also provide Construct with the necessary resources to address the community’s increasing rental assistance needs by facilitating the implementation of a matching program aimed at supplementing microloans provided by local banks, Lee Bank and Greylock, for rental assistance. 

Construct’s data from the past three years regarding assistance and housing needs reveals a gap in services for individuals who are stably housed, but facing difficulties due to escalating rents and housing instability. While some families may benefit most from one-time rental assistance, others may find a low-interest microloan with a matching contribution to be the most financially sensible option for catching up and resolving arrears. CPA funding is raised through a property tax surcharge and supplemented by State funding. 

The expenditures are subject to authorization by Great Barrington’s Annual Town Meeting scheduled for May 6, 2024.

Thank you, Town of Lee

The Town of Lee Community Preservation Committee has recommended Construct’s request for $50,000 rental assistance for Lee residents. Voters will ultimately decide whether the money is appropriated to Construct at the Town meeting in May. 

This program is designed to bolster the Town of Lee’s ongoing efforts to create affordable housing, providing essential stability for residents in need.



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Join Us For a Celebration of Community

December 22nd at the Cove Bowling Alley in Great Barrington

Join us for a night of music, bowling, and community spirit at The Cove Bowling Alley in Great Barrington. Let’s come together to support our neighbors and ring in the holiday season.

Music by The Lucky Bucket Band. Free entry. Cash bar & food available.

December 22nd, 6-9 pm
Cove Bowling Alley
109 Stockbridge Rd, Great Barrington, MA 01230

To hear more about this event, tune into 94.1FM WSBS Radio on Monday, Dec 18 at 9am when Communications Director Leigh Davis and Nadine Foster from The Lucky Bucket Band sit down with Jesse Stewart for an exclusive interview!

Lucky Bucket Band



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