At Winslow: mixed results on low rung of rental market

  • Current Greenfield Housing Authority Executive Director Dan Finn, inside a single-occupancy room at the Winslow. File photo

  • Former Greenfield Housing Authority Executive Director John Counter, inside the Winslow. File photo

  • The Winslow’s Wells Street entrance. File photo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/6/2018 2:59:56 AM

GREENFIELD – When John Counter came to the Greenfield Housing Authority as its executive director in 2010, the first housing issue he had read about was the “jungle” – a homeless encampment between the railroad tracks and Main Street that PanAm and local authorities eventually broke up when its denizens were seen as causing problems for each other and others.

He began his housing career here saying he wanted to address the issue of homelessness among people like those in the “jungle” – some of whom turned up this summer on the homeless tent town on the Greenfield Common.

In 2012, Counter opened The Winslow Apartments building at Main and Wells streets, which has 55 single-room occupancy (SRO) apartments, following a $5.9 million rehabilitation of the former Harco Rooms. Some of the tenters evicted from the “jungle” found homes in the new studio apartments.

“The Winslow building was essentially an opportunity ... to provide affordable housing,” said John Cariddi in 2012. Former executive director of the housing authority, he took the lead on developing the Winslow. “Most of the original residents of the building were elderly, disabled, or single working poor. Most of them would, in all likelihood, be one paycheck away from being homeless themselves. This is the only facility of its kind to offer assistance to single, working poor individuals.”

When the Winslow opened, Counter said “there’s no question this project has had a positive impact on the town,” and Cariddi said “because the residents have subsidized rent, they have more disposable income to spend.”

Promotional articles published at the time touted the Winslow’s ability to lift people up, offering supportive service programs to lead the people living there toward “self-sufficiency.” There would be office space for social workers to meet with their clients on site, programs to help them toward their GED, job training or college courses. Cariddi said the Winslow would be the “only facility in the state to offer this specific program.”

Today, none of this exists as planned for the apartment complex that is home to 55 individuals, all of whom make under $31,400 a year. Tenants pay 30 percent of their overall income, whether that be from a job or disability payments. A handful of the apartments are rented by the Franklin County Jail for newly released inmates who may need that help.

Greenfield Housing Authority Executive Director Dan Finn said there isn’t enough staff to support providing social services at the Winslow.

There is also no data available to show how this program might have operated previously. Finn said he didn’t have any information he could provide on it.

Nonetheless, Finn said the Winslow generally has worked out.

“We have a waiting list of 110 to 120 people for that building,” Finn said. “It’s definitely been very successful.”

Mayor William Martin has also pointed to the Winslow as a success for how to finance a project that can house low-income people, while giving them easy access to the downtown.

Martin’s planner who works on housing issues, MJ Adams, also cited studio apartments as an effective solution to the housing crisis.

Several discussions with residents of the Winslow have painted a picture of disrepair and dysfunction in what’s perceived as the lowest-rung of rental housing in town. Residents, current and former, talk about rampant drug use, which may not be exclusive to the building.

Finn didn’t completely dispute this reputation when asked directly about it.

“The Winslow is a microcosm of Greenfield,” Finn said. “There are many great tenants and there are tenants who are problems, and we deal with those tenants as they come up in the ways we can.”

“Bottom line is you can go to any community in Greenfield and find those issues,” Finn added. “I got 55 people living on top of each other. Some of them will have issues.”

Asked if the Winslow model is then effective in providing quality housing for residents, Finn declined to comment at the moment.

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