Berkshire Planning Commission Talks Housing and Workforce Advocacy /

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With a new state administration taking over next year, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission discussed its priorities for the county on Thursday.

“We have an opportunity that only comes around every few years, where we have a new administration coming in,” executive director Thomas Matuszko told the committee last week.

He noted that Governor-elect Maura Healey and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll announced the formation of transitional policy committees and said it was important to champion county priorities when Healey and Driscoll take office.

AJ Enchill, originally from Pittsfield, who is president and executive director of the Berkshire Black Economic Council, is co-chairman of the Healy-Driscoll Transition’s Jobs and a Thriving Economy Committee.

Matuszko said the USRA has identified housing as one of the highest priorities through work on its regional housing strategy and other efforts. This was supported by committee members who raised issues of availability and affordability.

Workforce development also emerged as a priority.

“Certainly in South County and in a rural community in South County we are in a total housing crisis here and sometimes interested parties tend to confuse availability with affordability,” said Tyringham delegate Amanda Hamilton. .

“And another thing is that here we’re really looking at how do we sustain ourselves as a vital, vibrant community with people of all ages and backgrounds rather than becoming as [if] it was a rural theme park for a lot of outside money.”

She said it was also important to protect sustainable agriculture and small businesses so that there are job opportunities other than property management and hospitality.

Egremont delegate Mary McGurn addressed the issue of land security and availability, highlighting the efforts of the Harry Conklin Farms Fund which supports secure, long-term access to land for farms and smallholders. farmers.

“Typically young farmers want to get into farming, want to be tied to the land,” McGurn explained.

“Land that they can have some security in, they can have access to affordable land and that also involves housing because they need housing to go with it.”

She said there needs to be something that addresses this issue and finds a way to provide access to affordable land.

Last year, state agriculture commissioner John Lebeaux visited farms in South County and heard similar stories.

McGurn explained that his city does not have defined affordable or workforce housing, but is working to create it for the first time, which would be a challenge.

Some of the barriers she has observed in obtaining funding for affordable housing are lack of transportation, zoning, and public denial due to misunderstanding.

Lanesborough delegate Barb Davis-Hassan said if you want to keep the workforce here you need to have affordable housing and the ability to build.

She feels that zoning regulations such as the 200-foot setback required to build near a river limit building opportunities in the county.

“I think we as members of the Planning Council, if we want to see our communities grow and we want to provide the workforce with housing that’s going to keep people here who want to be tradespeople, we also need to be active participants,” she says.

Sheffield delegate Sari Hoy likes the river receding because she worries about the amount of forest being lost to big houses in rural communities. Hoy does environmental work and said he has seen it for the past two years.

She added that workforce housing is very important in her town, but they face similar challenges as Egremont.

“The real challenge with housing in small towns, I think part of the challenge is that we don’t have a city (sewer) and we only have city water in a small central area and it’s a huge block when it comes to creating labour/affordable housing,” Hoy said.

“What I think we can do and reconsider and that’s viable in small towns is change our zoning so we can do some infill. Lots of affordable housing and they would be perfectly located more centrally in downtown- city ​​and also then if you’re if there are more apartments and buildings in the city center then maybe it’s more likely to attract a bit more public transport.”

The cost of education in rural communities was also raised as a concern.

During the meeting, the committee also approved the comprehensive five-year economic development strategy and reviewed the results of the survey of recent movers and second home owners.

The USRA survey earlier this year found the most second home owners have properties in Becket and have owned a second home in the county for 20 years or more that was purchased for less than $200,000. .

Key words: USRA, housing,

Aurora J. William