My Turn: Inventive approaches needed to solve city’s housing crunch

STAFF PHOTO

STAFF PHOTO

By SUSAN WORGAFTIK

Published: 03-31-2024 12:21 PM

I would like to thank former Mayor Wedegartner for her My Turn about housing in the commonwealth and in Greenfield. Yes, we are moving in the right direction, but we have a very long way to go. The UMass Donahue Institute stated that Franklin County needs 2,300-2,400 units to meet our needs. As the population of Greenfield is approximately one quarter of the total population of Franklin County, we at Housing Greenfield estimate that this means we need about 600 units of new housing in Greenfield alone. While the Wilson’s development (61 new units) and the Wells Street redevelopment of the shelter with an additional 36 units of housing are a start, we still have much to do.

There are some possibilities on the horizon … some will be affordable, some will be market rate and if the ones that I know about (all in their early stages of development) come to fruition, we might have another 100-150 units coming online. But to be clear, we will not see most of this new housing, including the redevelopment of Wilson’s for several years.

The Governor’s $4 billion Housing Bond Bill, The Affordable Homes Act, is working its way through the Legislature and is likely to be voted upon in late June or July. It will provide additional funds for developing new affordable housing. And, if the efforts of state Sen. Jo Comerford and Reps. Natalie Blais and Susannah M. Whipps are successful, we should be seeing some of the results of that bill here in Greenfield and Franklin County over the next few years.

Also, in the mix are the redevelopment of the Hope Street parking lot and the Green River School. The city of Greenfield and community groups are working together to establish what should go onto these sites and some of that discussion includes housing. These two parcels are pretty much all the publicly owned land that the city has for housing development. Two years ago, Housing Greenfield reviewed all the property that the city owns for the possibility of developing additional housing, particularly, but not limited to, affordable housing. These two sites are the only places that do not already have a committed use or are too wet or rocky for development.

So, what to do? I have a suggestion that involves the business community and the city working together for the benefit of everyone. In 2023, the city conducted a parking study https://greenfield-ma.gov/news_detail_T4_R75.php which stated that only 55% of the parking lots downtown, public and private, are in use, even at peak times. It seems to me that this is an opportunity for the business community to be part of responding to community needs and to make some money, too. If the owners of private parking areas in town, all of which are free to customers, were to work with the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development to establish which lots, or parts of lots, are available for other uses, we might have an exciting “out of the box” possibility. The lot owners could work with the city to sell or lease the appropriate lots or sections of lots to developers, whether for market rate or affordable housing. The parking lot owners could decide if they wanted to own those units and become landlords or sell the property outright to developers. These could either be profit-making developers or not-for-profit developers like Rural Development Inc., Habitat for Humanity, or the Valley Community Development Corporation, all of whom could make the new housing available for rental or sale.

This idea involves planning, time and commitment. But we, as a community, can do it. The benefits are great — new housing, less tarmac to heat up the community, and fewer less than beautiful paved and somewhat empty areas in our downtown.

I am happy to work on this idea with anyone interested in pursuing it. And, although I am not speaking here for Housing Greenfield, I would bet that others in the community would be interested in helping where they can.

So what do you say? How about an inventive approach to a vexing problem? Let’s see what we can do as a community with residents, city officials, and businesses working together to make Greenfield more livable and beautiful!

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Susan Worgaftik is a Greenfield resident and the coordinator of Housing Greenfield. This column does not represent a policy of Housing Greenfield. She can be reached at suworg1@gmail.com.