With renovations underway, housing for Compost Cooperative members expected by winter

  • The Compost Cooperative house, currently undergoing renovations in Greenfield, will provide a home and opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The Compost Cooperative house, currently undergoing renovations in Greenfield, will provide a home and opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/17/2021 4:43:19 PM

GREENFIELD — With renovation now underway, The Compost Cooperative hopes to be ready to move members into its recently acquired home before winter.

“We bought our house back in December,” said Trenda Loftin, a member/owner of The Compost Cooperative, which launched in 2018. “We were able to meet our goal, and close on Dec. 28 … which is exactly what we were hoping for.”

The co-op, which helps previously incarcerated individuals rebuild their lives, is a worker-owned business with customers who are “valued investors” in the community. The mission of the group is driven by racial and environmental justice, and worker/owners haul food scraps for residential and commercial customers in Greenfield and Whately to turn into soil-enriching compost.

“Along with living-wage jobs, we build ownership and opportunity among people coming out of jail and prison,” Revan Schendler said previously.

Last year, the cooperative set a goal of raising $400,000 to buy a property in Greenfield to house member/owners who are released from jail and find it difficult to find and secure affordable housing.

Through online fundraisers, including a GoFundMe — which is still raising money — local offline fundraising and donations from various groups, the cooperative raised enough money by the end of December to put a down payment on a two-family home in Greenfield, the address for which is not being disclosed out of concern for the privacy of the future tenants.

“We have received a special permit from the city of Greenfield to convert it to a three-family,” said Carl Woodruff of Oxbow Design Build, the Easthampton-based design and construction company tasked with completing the house’s renovations.

Woodruff said that in another few years time, the house would have been in such a state of neglect it would need to be torn down.

“We’re fortunate we were able to get in there at the right time,” he said. “Some of the immediate work that has already taken place is we demolished some portions of the house … which were in very poor shape and kind of dangerous as they were. We also did some hazardous materials abatement. … The first priority was to make the property safe.”

The house will need “substantial foundation repair” and some roof repair, too, he said. The whole “shell” of the house will be rebuilt in such a way to allow for improved energy efficiency.

“The house, I believe, had been abandoned for three years,” Schendler noted.

Loftin said that while Woodruff spearheads the renovation, the cooperative is looking ahead to different models of resident support it can offer for the people who will one day live in the house.

“We know that one of the barriers to homeownership, to some extent, is learning all that it takes to maintain a property,” she said. “We’re really excited to be dreaming about workshops we might offer, not only for residents of this house, but also other folks involved in the co-op and other folks who are interested in building skills around some basic home maintenance and cooperative skills.”

Loftin said housing is such a critical part of the process to rebuilding a life after incarceration.

“I think housing alone won’t solve all of the issues and barriers that folks who have been incarcerated will face, but hopefully the element of having a home that feels secure — a home that actually feels like home and not just a half-step up from a jail cell — can really make a difference,” she said.

Schendler added that without affordable housing, people’s risk of re-incarceration increases.

“It costs taxpayers in Massachusetts at least $70,000 a year to house somebody in jail, where the sentence is under 2½ years,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense at all not to provide people coming out of jail housing that would be so much cheaper than if they were, for some minor reason, taken back to jail to be $70,000 per year for taxpayers.”

Loftin said she thinks the people in Franklin County are starting to pay closer attention to the housing crisis and importance of affordable housing.

“The housing forum that was just led over the last couple months stirred up and revealed the intricacies and the pervasiveness of lack of access to affordable housing — not just for people who have been impacted by incarceration but others who have access to limited funds, mobility issues or disabilities,” she said. “So to see the community rallying and really starting to examine … and then strategizing around what possible solutions could be and then implementing them is really exciting to me.”

The cooperative is still seeking to raise about $193,000 to reduce the loan it secured from the Cooperative Fund of New England.

“We’re still fundraising,” Loftin said. “With all the components at play … our goal is to reduce that amount as much as possible.”

Donations can be made via the GoFundMe at bit.ly/3gqkhx2 or by sending a check to: The Compost Cooperative, P.O. Box 792, Greenfield, MA 01302.

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


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