Housing is in a state of crisis in Berkshire County. If you’ve tried to buy or rent in the last several years, you have doubtlessly noticed that housing is both more expensive and more difficult to find these days. There are a number of challenges, both long-term and more recent and local as well as statewide, that have put the region in this position. Solving them will not be easy, but in order to sustain our economic recovery, we need to address the challenges of housing in our region. 1Berkshire and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission convened a working group in the fall of 2020 to study the challenges and opportunities related to housing, and will soon release a preliminary report outlining key barriers and potential solutions.
The biggest challenge is simply that the region lacks sufficient quality housing at all levels, from South to North, from affordable to market-rate, for rental and for purchase. The Berkshires began losing population in the 1970s with the departure of major employers like General Electric and Sprague Electric, and there was subsequently little interest in larger-scale housing production. With surplus homes on the market, some existing homes became professional offices, while others have fallen into disrepair. Additionally, the production of new housing is expensive and complicated, due to a range of factors including local zoning and state regulations as well as increasing material and labor costs. Often, these barriers make it so that the rents or sale prices required for a housing developer to turn a profit are unaffordable to the region’s renters or potential homebuyers. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of these challenges.
In the fall of 2020, 1Berkshire and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission convened a working group of housing practitioners from the region. Represented within this group were municipalities, industry leaders, community organizations, and housing development organizations. Over a series of meetings, this group began to establish some of the major impediments to building new housing and rehabilitating existing housing. The group also considered challenges facing people experiencing homelessness, municipalities, and developers, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on renters and landlords. The working group also convened focus group conversations with lenders, housing developers, and other community groups. Additionally, the group researched and contacted organizations and agencies working to address housing in other regions.
This study has culminated in A Housing Vision For The Berkshires, a soon-to-be-released report that outlines key challenges and identifies important short- and long-term high-level strategies to address them. Among others, these strategies include raising awareness about housing needs and opportunities, fostering a supportive environment for housing development, advocating for regional housing programs that meet needs in the Berkshires, and securing needed financial resources.
The housing crisis is not unique to the Berkshires, nor did it come upon us overnight. As a region, the Berkshires has a lot of work to do, but there is reason to be optimistic. A Housing Vision For The Berkshires provides a comprehensive strategy to follow and the foundation of a network of partners and practitioners to carry it forward. Together, we can find ways to make it easier to build a life in this place we love. Keep an eye out for the release of A Housing Vision for the Berkshires this spring, and find out how you can get involved in this important work!
Return to 1Berkshire news.