Editorial: Monday Shorts: Housing series look-back

  • About 25 local firefighters responded to help contain a forest fire in northern Berkshire County that was estimated to span about 270 acres by late Sunday morning, May 16. COURTESY PHOTO/TURNERS FALLS FIRE DEPARTMENT

Published: 5/23/2021 3:37:35 PM

Here are some brief thoughts on recent happenings in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region.

Think affordable housing is an intractable problem? Think again, challenged the housing forum organizing committee formed jointly by Greening Greenfield and Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution (FCCPR). Under the leadership of chair Susan Worgaftik, the committee worked for more than two years to bring together experts for a nine-part series, “Housing is a human right,” that culminated last week with a discussion on energy efficiency. Each part examined a different aspect of — and, often, a solution to — the housing crisis.

By way of background, it was the summer of 2018 when the Greenfield Town Common filled with tents as word spread among the homeless that the center of downtown was a safe place and that town officials seemed unwilling or unable to move them. Suddenly, no one could ignore the problem of homelessness.

“It’s been a journey,” Worgaftik said this spring. That journey exposed a problem that is at the same time both daunting and doable. Let’s recap their deep dive into affordable housing:

■“Our Housing Crisis: How we got here and what we can do,” presented Brian Sargent, assistant professor of public policy at UMass Amherst, Gina Govoni, executive director of Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and state Sen. Jo Comerford. Worgaftik, who moderated the discussion, noted the complexity of developing safe, affordable and accessible housing in the United States “has more obstacles than we ever imagined.”

■“Living on the Outskirts of Society: Stigmatization of people in re-entry from incarceration and recovery.”

■“Resident-Owned Communities: One housing answer,” redefined the trailer park concept to include manufactured home communities in which residents own their home and, sometimes, the land it sits on.

■“Community Land Trusts: The Burlington, Vt. Experience.” Rather than rely on outside developers, the community land trust keeps the investment in, and value of, housing within local communities.

■“Homelessness: Our housing crisis and a call to action.”

■“Reclaiming Municipally Owned Abandoned Buildings.”

■“How do we pay for the housing we want?”

■“Achieving affordability with clean energy”

Altogether, the series, which their website, housingishumanright.com, makes available on YouTube, offers a primer for communities nationwide to tackle their own affordable housing shortfalls.

“Our goal,” committee member Sarah Brown-Anson said, “is to engage our community in finding ways to act on long-term solutions.”

Actually, very long-term. But, as Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski advised, “Never give up.”

New specialty crew hits the fire lines

The largest forest fire in the state since 1999 recently burned some 800 acres in the Clarksburg State Forest in Berkshire County. It was extinguished with aid from the Franklin County Hand Crew, a two-year-old, roughly 75-member operation that specializes in providing assistance for large, difficult-to-contain forest fires.

The job entails digging a line into the soil around the fire to prevent it from spreading. The hand crew is the brainchild of several area fire chiefs who felt there was a need for a collaborative wildfire team.

This was the crew that worked the forest fire on Joshua Hill in Leverett last summer that spanned more than 60 acres.

Erving Fire Chief Philip Wonkka and Greenfield Fire Chief Robert Strahan are the two local chiefs in charge of the Franklin County firefighters working in Williamstown.

“You’ve got to get people in the woods,” Wonkka explained.

The Franklin County Hand Crew is considered a vital resource for firefighting. Strahan said the crew performed well. We and, we hope, the whole county, are grateful to and proud of our firefighters.

It’s graduation season

High school graduation is a milestone in any young person’s life, representing 12 years of achievement in preparation for the next phase of their life.

Schools traditionally make a big deal of graduation, with a public ceremony featuring guest speakers, family and friends all celebrating student achievements. This paper likes to make a big deal of graduations, too, and this year that’s more important than ever before. In so many ways, students of the past year have been shortchanged as the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed sports and senior class events and as classroom camaraderie succumbed to online learning.

The Recorder will showcase our graduating seniors with a new supplement to be published on June 30. We will still cover each graduation as a news story in the pages of the daily paper, but this will give us more space to include the lists of graduating seniors, their awards and scholarships, student speeches, extra photos, parents’ congratulatory messages and more.

We’re excited about what we hope will be a new tradition and a keeper for families.


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