Groups team up for series on housing in Franklin County

  • Greening Greenfield and Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution present the first in a virtual series of nine forums on affordable housing options and development throughout the county. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2021 6:22:22 AM

More than 100 residents from across the county came together virtually on Saturday for the first of nine forums aimed at addressing the issue of affordable housing and development in Franklin County.

“A team of Greening Greenfield and Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution (FCCPR) members have been working to develop this program for over two years,” Forum Organizing Committee Chair Susan Worgaftik said. “It’s been a journey.”

The program, a nine-session virtual forum on the issues of affordable housing and development, kicked off Saturday morning with “Housing is a Human Right: We Can Make It Happen,” which included presentations from three key-note speakers: Brian Sargent, assistant professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; Gina Govoni, executive director of Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority; and state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

Worgaftik, who moderated the discussion, said the complexity of developing safe, affordable and accessible housing in the United States “has more obstacles than we ever imagined.”

“The idea that everyone should have a home as a human right has never been a part of the United States DNA,” she said.

Nationwide, housing is difficult to find, expensive and of “variable quality,” Worgaftik continued.

Sargent spoke to the history of home ownership, particularly with respect to the way race has played a role in where people live, from restrictive covenants (which were neighborhood rules limiting who you could sell your house to), to redlining (which denied loans to individuals living in certain areas), and the G.I. Bill (which provided benefits to white veterans post-World War II).

He also spoke to employment and the issue of tax base, and its relationship to education funding.

“All of these things are tied to housing,” he said. “Can we build communities that are willing and ready to … embrace and rethink their ideas of community, irrespective of these long histories of gendered, racial and classist notions of what it means to build a home and what it means to build a community?”

Govoni said the legacy of the systemic racism, outlined by Sargent, is a contributing factor to the reality that Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) have a higher “housing cost burden” than white households, even today.

“What we mean by housing cost burden is those households that are spending more than 30 percent (of income on housing),” she said.

The housing cost burden, she added, grew between 2010 and 2018.

Although Massachusetts is an expensive place to live generally, she said, it’s especially true in rural parts of the state.

The cost of heating fuel, especially in rural areas, is above average, for example. Housing is old, and therefore in need of upkeep and rehab, and cost of transportation is also a limiting factor.

“Transportation is a distinctly rural problem,” she said.

Govoni said she believes the solutions to improving access to affordable housing will need to be regional.

Currently, each community has its own local zoning, she explained, and one of the things that has resulted is single-family housing on big lots.

Going one by one, Govoni said, with a regional goal of producing 2,300 housing units in the next four years, is going to be a slow process.

“My recommendation is that we look at building larger units and larger developments with more units so we can try to meet the demand,” she said.

Govoni pointed to existing projects, such as the senior housing development in Sunderland that is currently under construction.

“If we want to increase affordability, we need to increase the supply of housing,” she said.

In Comerford’s portion of the forum, she shared legislation aimed at addressing housing issues, and identified potential funding sources in the fiscal year 2022 budget.

“This is an opportunity to right historic wrongs,” Comerford said. “I think at the state level we have a particular role to play as we rebuild, but not go back to the status quo because the status quo was not good enough. We have to go to something much more equitable, much more just.”

The next virtual forum is scheduled to take place April 7, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. To register, visit housingishumanright.com. Or, contact Worgaftik at suworg1@gmail.com; Sarah Brown-Anson at sbrownanson@gmail.com; or Doug Selwyn at dougselwyn@aol.com.

“The forum is a beginning; it’s not an end,” Worgaftik said. “We hope you will commit yourselves to this effort in whatever way seems appropriate for you and your community.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne




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