Greenfield residents chime in on housing creation

CommunityScale Principal Jeff Sauser presents an overview of Greenfield’s housing market to residents at the John Zon Community Center on Wednesday.

CommunityScale Principal Jeff Sauser presents an overview of Greenfield’s housing market to residents at the John Zon Community Center on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-23-2024 6:56 PM

GREENFIELD — As the city works to develop a comprehensive plan to build housing, residents appeared before Community and Economic Development Department officials and representatives from the urban planning firm CommunityScale on Wednesday to offer their perspectives on Greenfield’s housing market.

These residents chimed in on a range of topics, from affordable housing, to accessory dwelling units, and the local housing and rental markets.

CommunityScale Principal Project Designer Jeff Sauser opened discussions with a comprehensive overview of the city’s financial housing statistics, noting that in 2022, Greenfield’s area median income was $53,149, compared to Franklin County’s $93,100. Sauser said that while Greenfield’s disparity between median income and median monthly housing costs is not nearly as wide as it is in other Massachusetts communities, the average monthly housing cost in Greenfield in 2024 is $3,400, while, on average, residents can only afford to pay $1,740 a month for housing.

Sauser added that while the city has an abundance of two-, three- and four-bedroom housing, it lacks studio and one-bedroom units as well as housing options priced below $2,350. He explained that according to permitting data, only 70 housing units have been built in Greenfield during the last decade, creating a competitive market — a pace that he said will likely accelerate in the near future, with projects such as the Wilson’s Department Store housing conversion and the 60 Wells St. shelter in the pipeline.

“There’s a number of new housing developments on the horizon right now in various stages of planning and permitting. ... We’re looking at 150, 200 units or more in the pipeline that could be built in the next several years,” Sauser explained.

Sauser concluded his presentation by asking the public what kinds of housing they would like to see in Greenfield, prompting discussion on accessory dwelling units, the city’s rental market and downtown housing. Resident Jeff Aliber noted that with the rapid increase of fully remote jobs, higher-income residents are migrating to places like Greenfield for their open space and low-cost housing.

Aliber said he believes residents from areas like Oregon and California will likely seek out communities like Greenfield as the impacts of climate change become more severe.

“Given that the Berkshires are overpriced at this point, the lower part of this valley is becoming increasingly overpriced and the assets that are here, we are going to see increasing demand for properties that aren’t necessary factored into the unit view that you presented here today,” Aliber said. “There is absolutely a trend in terms of macro-migration, and we’re going to definitely see more rather than less.”

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Montague resident and disability advocate Betty Tegel said the city needs to keep accessibility in mind while new housing units are being constructed, noting that she believes the city’s current 5% accessibility requirement is too low. Tegel also rallied for “age in place” ordinances to ensure the city’s elders are not priced out of their homes.

Resident John Anhalt suggested that homeowners build more accessory dwelling units, also known as “in-law apartments,” to diversify its housing stock. He said that many people are hesitant to build ADUs because the city requires that all units be owner-occupied, prompting homeowners’ concerns that if they decide to move, they will not be able to sell their homes with the attached units.

“I think we need to get rid of that requirement, make ADUs by right across the board. You’ll see more landlords come in and build ADUs, that will create housing stock in that zero to one-bedroom area,” Anhalt said.

Greenfield Business Association Director Hannah Rechtschaffen echoed Anhalt’s remarks, adding that she believes many residents have a “slightly dated” view on ADUs, and that having additional units on one’s property can be a useful asset, either as a home for aging family members or as a rental property.

In response, resident Al Norman argued that removing the owner occupation requirement from the city’s ADU ordinance would encourage out-of-state developers to purchase land in Greenfield for rent.

“Now they want an absentee landlord from Tennessee or Illinois to be able to buy up land in Greenfield and build two units on one lot,” Norman said. “The problem I’m having with that is that I’ve watched our retail sector for years be destroyed by out-of-state developers who don’t touch their properties at all and let them deteriorate.”

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429.