English  |   Español

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.

← All Articles

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.

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.

← All Articles

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.”

← All Articles

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.

← All Articles

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.

← All Articles

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


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.”


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. 

← All Articles

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.

← All Articles

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

← All Articles

NBT Bank Donates $30,000 To Three South County Community Organizations

— The Berkshire Eagle

Thank you to NBT Bank!

“NBT Bank has donated a total of $30,000 to three South County organizations: The People’s Pantry and Construct Inc. of Great Barrington and Sheffield Food Assistance Program. Each organization received $10,000.

The donations were made as part of the bank’s commitment to maintain charitable support in the markets served by the former Salisbury Bank. Salisbury Bank merged into NBT in August.

“This incredibly generous donation from NBT will significantly impact our ability to address food insecurity in the community,” said Beth Moser, board president for The People’s Pantry.

“Our weekly program has been supplementing food budgets for residents in the Southern Berkshire School District for more than 35 years, and we can only do this with the generosity of community partners such as NBT Bank,” said Marcia Brolli from the Sheffield Food Assistance Program.

And Jane Ralph, executive director for Construct, Inc., said, “Construct is incredibly grateful for the recent gift and the long-term support we received from NBT and the former Salisbury Bank.”

Based in Norwich, N.Y., NBT Bank has been serving Berkshire County since 2011 with locations in Great Barrington, Lee, North Adams and Pittsfield. The merger of Salisbury into NBT Bank added a second location in downtown Great Barrington and offices in Sheffield and South Egremont.”

← All Articles

Dateline Stockbridge: There Is No Panacea For Building Affordable Or Workforce Housing

From The Berkshire Eagle, by Carole Owens

“Today, if we want affordable housing in Stockbridge, we need an Affordable Housing Trust, government subsidies, and a housing production plan.”Stockbridge always had mixed housing; it occurred organically. Houses were built one at a time, all over town. There was lower-priced, medium-priced, and luxury housing on Sergeant Street, South Main, Yale Hill, even around the lake. Yup, on Stockbridge Bowl, there were two-bed, one-bath bungalows with sleeping porches. They were small houses on postage-stamp lots.

Then folks came in, bought everything up, and tore it down. Modest housing, duplexes, salt boxes, and bungalows were renovated or replaced with hippopotami on picnic blankets. Just like that, our modest housing stock was gone and the rebuilds were priced out of reach of most of us. Today, if we want affordable housing in Stockbridge, we need an Affordable Housing Trust, government subsidies, and a housing production plan.

It is an artificial superimposition of housing onto community. Under whatever housing production plan, affordable housing will be built all at once, all alike, all in one spot. When built at the same time, a problem is built in: Age and deterioration occur at the same time. The problem at Pine Woods is an example. Major repairs and replacements of boilers, roofs, siding, appliances, roadbeds, and more occur simultaneously. It is a built-in problem, and a very expensive one.

Building in one spot creates instant homogeneity, separating folks from one another by finances. It could appear to be marginalization—being made less important and less powerful—through a socially-engineered process. Nonetheless, some argue that we must create housing in this way because the marketplace has—and will continue to—price all but the wealthiest out of Stockbridge.

Essential workers—firefighters, police officers, municipal workers, teachers, nurses, and more—will have to commute from other towns. Quick responses to emergencies, a sense of belonging and neighborly familiarity will all be more difficult for town workers to achieve. However, it is argued, it must be done, or young families with children, first-time buyers, will be priced out along with essential workers. So, if it must be done, what can be done?

Government agencies—federal and state—must subsidize housing. The terms (subsidized housing and affordable housing) are synonymous. The housing is affordable because it is subsidized. The costs of land and construction force up the sale prices of homes. The government subsidizes the purchase price and makes it affordable. When workforce housing is differentiated from middle-income housing by limiting it to essential workers, there might be subsidies and assistance.

That leaves the forgotten middle. At the upper end, no help is needed; at the lower end, help is available. Where is there help for those who do not earn enough to afford Stockbridge housing but earn too much to qualify for assistance? An Affordable Housing Trust and a Community Preservation Committee could help them, but where do they get the money to do it?

Inclusionary zoning (IZ) is a policy that requires or encourages private developers to build some units at prices below market value within a development of more expensive houses. In the alternative, the developer can pay a fixed amount per unit (from 10 to 30 percent) not to build affordable housing. In exchange, the developer receives incentives such as density bonuses (ability to build more units than would otherwise be allowed), faster permitting, reduced permitting fees, greater height allowances, reduced parking requirements, tax breaks, and other exemptions. The Affordable Housing Trust receives the money paid in lieu of building less expensive units. The Trust can use that money to help purchase homes when other sources are not available.

IZ creates more income diversity in a given neighborhood, and less government spending. On the other hand, “below market prices” does not always mean affordable to everyone who needs housing. A unit that is affordable to someone making 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) might not be affordable to a person making 30 percent AMI and might not meet the needs of a particular community. Also, IZ leverages the private market instead of public funding to increase the supply of affordable housing, and at the same time decreases the developer’s net profit—it may discourage building. Last and certainly not least, the government provides block grants for repairs. These grants and loans help folks pay for major repairs, such as a new roof. In so doing, these grants may help the family to remain in their home. The grants interrupt market forces: The family is not forced or tempted to sell, and so the home remains off market and modestly priced.

There are options for building affordable and workforce housing and even for helping the middle class, but none is a panacea. Each solution to social ills has side effects.

Gentrification is thought of as wealthier people moving to poorer neighborhoods and displace residents. It can also happen when housing production is planned for, say, workforce housing, thus displacing poorer households. Just because the goal is laudable does not mean there won’t be negative impacts.

Marginalization: All planned housing can create a bulk influx that marginalizes both the target householders and others. Many realize this and advocate for mixed housing being developed. And yet, all planned housing that creates a bulk influx marginalizes both the target householders and others. For example, as more children are introduced into public schools, there is a benefit in human and monetary resources. There is also a threshold at which those benefits turn into liabilities.

Finally, homelessness is the product of the housing market. As housing costs rise, more are displaced. As more land is built on, less land is available, and prices rise. It is unimportant if less land is available as a result of building luxury, work force, or affordable housing.

There are no perfect solutions. Flip the coin, make the choice, but look closer at both sides of that coin.

← All Articles