Housing Committee chair hears rural housing, shelter challenges during tour in Greenfield

Area experts in shelter and housing recently met with legislative Housing Committee Chair Sen. Lydia Edwards, D-Boston, to discuss challenges and opportunities for housing in western Massachusetts.

Area experts in shelter and housing recently met with legislative Housing Committee Chair Sen. Lydia Edwards, D-Boston, to discuss challenges and opportunities for housing in western Massachusetts. CONTRIBUTED

Area experts in shelter and housing recently met with legislative Housing Committee Chair Sen. Lydia Edwards, D-Boston, to discuss challenges and opportunities for housing in western Massachusetts.

Area experts in shelter and housing recently met with legislative Housing Committee Chair Sen. Lydia Edwards, D-Boston, to discuss challenges and opportunities for housing in western Massachusetts. CONTRIBUTED

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 09-14-2023 7:20 PM

GREENFIELD — Housing and shelter experts from across Franklin and Hampshire counties recently joined legislative Housing Committee Chair Sen. Lydia Edwards on a tour of the region to discuss rural housing and shelter challenges and opportunities.

“The housing crisis has always been bigger than Boston,” Edwards, D-Boston, said in a statement prior to her visit last week. “I want to thank Sen. Jo Comerford and the dozens of stakeholders, tenants, organizations and activists for welcoming me, and showing me the unique challenges faced in western Massachusetts.”

Comerford said it was “extraordinary” for Edwards to have had the opportunity to meet with many of the key shelter and housing providers in the region. Prior to her stops in Hadley at the former Econo Lodge — part of which is occupied by Craig’s Doors, an Amherst-based emergency shelter organization — and at the Wells Street shelter in Greenfield overseen by Clinical & Support Options (CSO), Edwards met with legislative officials in Hampden and Berkshire counties.

“That opportunity for exchange of information and perspective, questions, feedback — it doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does, it’s like gold,” Comerford said. “I can’t be more grateful to my colleague for taking the time to come and learn about rural housing challenges, which are very particular.”

Compared to the eastern part of the state, western Massachusetts lacks access to capital, Comerford said. Infrastructure differences also exist, with parts of the region relying on septic and wells.

Still, she said, western Massachusetts has communities that are willing to step up in an effort to solve the housing crisis — an impression she believes was left on Edwards.

Among those to partake in the tour with Edwards was Gina Govoni, executive director of the Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority.

“In terms of development, there are higher costs than are sometimes perceived in Boston because of the limited amount of developable land with adequate infrastructure, like water and sewer, or septic,” Govoni said. “It’s more difficult; it adds to the cost.”

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And even though real estate prices may appear lower than in eastern Massachusetts, the overall lower income in western Massachusetts creates a higher housing cost burden both on renters and homeowners, Govoni noted.

“Sen. Edwards, just prior to our meeting, got out to Chester, so she really got to see some of the challenges involved in the refinance of a rural senior property,” she explained. “We were excited she got to lay eyes on that and see some of the infrastructure demands because it’s really analogous to some of the things we’re looking at in Franklin County as well.”

Speaking on behalf of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, Director Pamela Schwartz echoed Comerford’s gratitude for Edwards’ visit.

“She’s in a leadership role of legislative priorities that we as a region need to make happen,” she said. “To that extent, her visit here is all part of encouraging and really urging immediate and comprehensive action. It was just great to have her here.”

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