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Berkshire Planning Commission Looks to Build Housing Coalition
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
02:45AM / Monday, November 08, 2021
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The Executive Committee of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission meets Thursday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is continuing its efforts to address the county's housing crisis.

On Thursday, BRPC's Executive Committee voted to submit a grant of services application to the Citizen's Housing and Planning Association's Municipal Engagement Initiative to build a regional housing coalition that will address housing of all types.

This is part of this regional housing strategy BRPC has been working on with housing practitioners. It was suggested that the planners become more inclusive by trying a broader outreach to different population groups and then build a coalition that wants to advance housing of all types.

The coalition will engage a wide range of partners to address housing issues that plague Berkshire County from affordable or subsidized housing to higher-priced housing.

"In our work, we found that some of the other groups in Berkshire County are fairly strongly aligned, like the economic development and preservationists, but it doesn't seem that the housing interests are that closely aligned," Executive Director Thomas Matuszko explained.

"And so CHAPA is a very well-respected housing advocacy group and this is a grant of services so they would provide their expertise and how we could go about creating what we're calling a Housing Coalition for Berkshire County."

The effort was instigated by economic development organization 1Berkshire's interest in collaborating with BRPC for a housing initiative. 1Berkshire will be co-leading this effort and the Berkshire Housing Development Corp. will also be providing support.

It is intended that BRPC will take a primary lead with the municipalities, 1Berkshire will take the lead with businesses, and BHDC will lead project construction.

In January, the planning commission announced a partnership with 1Berkshire to develop a regional housing strategy, a policy that will set the stage for solutions and legislative support.

This is when the group of planners and other housing-related entities formed to brainstorm housing solutions whether it be a legislative fix, additional funding, or another programmatic element from the state government.

At Thursday's meeting of the Executive Committee, Matuszko announced that BRPC's new staff member Chris Brown — who was hired to work in the community planning program — will be working on comprehensive planning projects and focusing on housing.

"Over the past several months, we've been getting more and more requests for housing," Matuszko said.

He added that BRPC has been getting requests for a housing needs assessment, which is an inventory of the housing stock to identify concerns in a community.

The planners are also working on a housing production plan for the Town of Sheffield.

Matuszko said this is all somewhat related to the larger housing practitioners group.

"If you remember several months ago, we had a good discussion at the commission meeting about housing issues," he explained. "And we're going to be releasing that report very soon, but really, it calls for having some dedicated staff, people in Berkshire County working on housing, whether it's finding funding or positioning ourselves for various projects."

Williamstown alternate Roger Bolton suggested trying to somehow publicize any successes in providing affordable housing. He said his town has had very notable success in the matter.

Over the summer, a 42-unit affordable housing complex was built on Cole Avenue in Williamstown on a site that formerly held an abandoned mill.

Matuszko concurred and said another aspect that came out of BRPC's work with housing practitioners was a need for some type of "education/informational" campaign to highlight some of the success stories and demonstrate where the needs are.

Project specialist Chris Skelly is reportedly pulling together material for that.

The Executive Committee also discussed the possibility of getting a presentation on the state's American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from a legislator to better understand the grants that will be available over the next year and a half.

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