Regional listening session to inform development of statewide housing plan

Gina McLaughlin of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities runs a breakout session at a regional listening session at Greenfield Community College on Thursday.

Gina McLaughlin of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities runs a breakout session at a regional listening session at Greenfield Community College on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Ed Augustus, secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, speaks at a regional listening session at Greenfield Community College on Thursday.

Ed Augustus, secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, speaks at a regional listening session at Greenfield Community College on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Linda Dunlavy, executive director of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, speaks at the official groundbreaking of the Rural Development Inc. affordable housing project at 42 Cleveland St. in Greenfield on Thursday with Ed Augustus, secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, and Thomas Meshako, CEO of Greenfield Savings Bank, seated up front.

Linda Dunlavy, executive director of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, speaks at the official groundbreaking of the Rural Development Inc. affordable housing project at 42 Cleveland St. in Greenfield on Thursday with Ed Augustus, secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, and Thomas Meshako, CEO of Greenfield Savings Bank, seated up front. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll speaks at a regional listening session at Greenfield Community College on Thursday.

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll speaks at a regional listening session at Greenfield Community College on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Ed Augustus, secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, talks with Thomas Meshako, CEO of Greenfield Savings Bank, at the Rural Development Inc. affordable housing project at 42 Cleveland St. in Greenfield on Thursday.

Ed Augustus, secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, talks with Thomas Meshako, CEO of Greenfield Savings Bank, at the Rural Development Inc. affordable housing project at 42 Cleveland St. in Greenfield on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Gina Govoni, executive director of the Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority talks with Ed Augustus, Secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, at the groundbreaking of the Rural Development Inc. affordable housing project at 42 Cleveland Street in Greenfield on Thursday.

Gina Govoni, executive director of the Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority talks with Ed Augustus, Secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, at the groundbreaking of the Rural Development Inc. affordable housing project at 42 Cleveland Street in Greenfield on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll talks with Ed Augustus, secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, at a regional listening session at Greenfield Community College on Thursday.

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll talks with Ed Augustus, secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, at a regional listening session at Greenfield Community College on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

State and local officials pose for photos at the groundbreaking of the Rural Development Inc. affordable housing project at 42 Cleveland St. in Greenfield on Thursday.

State and local officials pose for photos at the groundbreaking of the Rural Development Inc. affordable housing project at 42 Cleveland St. in Greenfield on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-16-2024 6:52 PM

GREENFIELD — Availability, affordability and accessibility of housing was the focus of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities’ regional listening session on Thursday, which will help inform the development of a statewide housing plan.

While housing stock is crunched around Massachusetts, there is a particularly acute shortage here in Franklin County, as only 0.7% of homes in the county are available for sale or rent and one in four renter households are spending more than half of their income on rent and utilities, according to Gina McLaughlin of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.

To help the region, and the state as a whole, address this shortage, the Healey-Driscoll administration is seeking to develop a five-year strategic housing plan — in conjunction with the $4.1 billion Affordable Homes Act — by holding 14 listening sessions around the state, including the one in Greenfield on Thursday.

“We’re really trying to put some new tools in the toolbox and we’re trying to supercharge the things we know work,” said Housing Secretary Ed Augustus. “The tools of Greenfield and Franklin County are very different in some cases than the tools in the city of Boston. … It’s not a plan for eastern Massachusetts, it’s a plan for all of Massachusetts.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll was also in attendance, and said many places in Massachusetts, including her former home of Salem, are becoming unaffordable for the vast majority of people.

“We are really committed to trying to tackle the housing challenges, as we see it is the No. 1 challenge in the commonwealth,” Driscoll said, adding that the collective power of residents, businesses and the state can help achieve housing goals. “Collectively, we think that’s the commonwealth’s strength. When we bring people together — private sector, public sector, nonprofits, higher ed., industries — in regions to tackle a shared vision, we can be successful.”

Driscoll, Augustus, and other state and local officials were also in Greenfield Thursday morning for the groundbreaking of Rural Development Inc.’s affordable housing project at 42 Cleveland St.

Following the introductory remarks during the listening session at Greenfield Community College, folks were split into breakout groups of more than a dozen people to discuss their housing priorities, initiatives that are working, and what their dreams are for addressing the challenges the state and region are facing.

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“Availability, affordability and accessibility,” Greenfield resident Louise Amyot said of her desire for housing in the area. She also noted separating housing developments by any demographic — racial, economic or others — is the antithesis of building communities. “I don’t think segregated housing is good for society.”

A general consensus among one of the breakout groups — as well as with Augustus — is support for accessory dwelling units by right, or at least with few hurdles for a special permit. Several communities in the region have passed bylaws in recent years loosening accessory dwelling bylaws, including Deerfield and Montague. Leyden officials are bringing proposed bylaw changes to their Annual Town Meeting on June 3.

“I’ve become a huge proponent of ADUs,” said Walker Powell, Orange’s community development director, who noted she just bought a house in Montague with a family member because housing is so expensive, but the town’s bylaws allowed for the creation of an accessory dwelling unit, so they could each have their own home.

Among the things folks would like to see to address housing are state incentives that meet the scale of Franklin County. Many developmental subsidies and programs require numerous housing units to be profitable for developers. One solution, said Whately resident and Housing Committee member Montserrat Archbald, would be to either scale down some of the programs for smaller communities or to allow towns to work together on some projects.

“We need some affordable housing, but we are not big enough,” she said. “I’d like some way for towns to collaborate.”

Lack of public transportation and taking a look at short-term rental regulations, relating to companies like Airbnb, were also points of concern.

There will be two more opportunities for Franklin County residents to weigh in on the housing plan, as two of the seven remaining listening sessions will be virtual. The first comes on Monday, May 20, and the second will be held on Wednesday, May 29, with both sessions scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. A link to register can be found at bit.ly/4bnoQ5k.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.